Bringing the ball up the floor during the 2019-20 MPA basketball tournament in Bangor is Greater Houlton Christian Academy's Silas Graham (left). GHCA has formed a cooperative agreement with Houlton Middle-High School for all sports and extracurricular activities. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — With the winter sports season right around the corner, one school will noticeably be missing from the basketball courts.

Athletes from Greater Houlton Christian Academy, a private, Christian institution located in Houlton, will trade their school colors of green and white, as well as the Eagle mascot, in favor of the black and white Judges of Houlton Middle-High School as part of a new cooperative agreement between the two schools.

The cooperative was approved by the RSU 29 school board and the Greater Houlton Christian Academy board of directors in early fall and was eventually approved by the Maine Principals Association. The two schools had been talking about the idea for several months, and already have experience co-oping in football, cross country and track and field.

Previously, if the Academy did not offer a particular sport, students participated with other schools based on their places of residence. For example, students who resided in Hodgdon were able to participate with the Hodgdon baseball and basketball teams.

Under the new agreement, students will only be able to participate at Houlton.

In addition, eighth-graders will no longer be allowed to participate on a high school team. Under current MPA guidelines, small schools can use eighth grade students if there is an insufficient number of high school-age students. Those students will be eligible to participate on the middle school squads.

The idea to merge the two schools for athletics and extracurricular activities has been talked about for several years, Jon Solomon, athletic director at Houlton Middle-High School, said. He felt the time was right to see it to fruition.

“We had talked back in the spring about [the two schools] coming together and co-oping all of the activities we have to offer,” Solomon said. “For the last several years, we have co-oped in football, cross country and track and field. We feel this will be a better opportunity for all of the kids.”

By forming a cooperative, students at Greater Houlton Christian Academy can participate in all MPA-sanctioned activities, including academics and drama. The move will not bump Houlton into a higher classification by MPA’s standards, Solomon added. Nor will there be any problem with students needing to be cut for any particular team.

Greater Houlton Christian Academy has about 26 students in grades 9-12.

Trying to find enough athletes to compete for the school has been an increasingly difficult proposition, John Hall, athletic director at the Academy for the past four years, said. By joining forces with Houlton, those athletes can stay together on one team rather than be split up based on where they live.

“For example, we had four girls who played together through middle school, but now that they are in high school, one would be playing at Central Aroostook, one would play at Southern Aroostook, one would play for Houlton and one would play for Hodgdon,” he said. “We never have the opportunity for families to have one single game to go to. I would like to see our students that sit in class together, have the opportunity to play together.”

Hall added that the move would bring greater unity to the school’s family as they cheer on their students.

Greater Houlton Christian Academy last fielded an official school team during the 2019-20 winter sports season, with the Eagles boys basketball team earning a spot in the Class D North tournament. The Eagles won a preliminary round playoff and advanced to the Cross Insurance Center, where the team fell in the quarterfinals.

There will be no change to the color scheme or mascot for Houlton.

This article was updated to reflect that GHCA is a private Christian institution.