After years of battling in the trenches against opponents from other leagues — and later, subvarsity and varsity teams supported by the Maine Principals’ Association — the training wheels officially are off the bicycle that is the Medomak Valley High School football program.

At the Regional School Unit 40 Board of Directors meeting on Thursday, Jan. 18, it was voted the Panthers now will be recognized as a full-fledged varsity sport.

It is a decision that has been years in the making, but now is a reality for the hard-working, mostly blue-collar communities of Waldoboro, Warren, Washington, Friendship and Union.

At a school board meeting on Jan. 23, 2014, the school board voted to approve the high school-aged program to club status, while a year later, on Jan. 22, 2015, it was approved to varsity status — under a three-year probationary period.

Now, that probationary period is a thing of the past.

The vote on Thursday was nearly unanimous at 12-1, with Emily Trask-Eaton the lone board member to oppose the motion.

Medomak Valley athletic director Matt Lash addressed the board on Thursday — and the more than 50 people in attendance — and said this year’s high school athletic budget will include funds for officials, transportation, dues and fees.

"What Matt has presented is the next logical step," said Naomi Miller, president and co-founder, with her husband, Fritz, of the Medomak Youth Football program.

She said MYF will maintain responsibility for the equipment and supplies for the high school teams, and will follow the protocols with regard to Maine Principal's Association guidelines.

Miller said MYF,  the kindergarten through eighth-grade youth football program, is non-profit and tax exempt, and funds that come in to support the high school football program through concession sales or fundraisers are kept in a separate account.

Funds received through admission to high school games last year amounted to $5,500 to $5,700, said Miller, who added that those monies could be used to offset fees for officials and other state fees.

"If we're going to own the sport, we need to own it," board member Lynda Letteney said, as she explained the school should also be responsible for keeping equipment and supplies up to date due to liability issues.

"If it's a gate-producing sport, it shouldn't be treated any differently than basketball," Letteney said.

Letteney made a motion to add an amendment to state that all gate receipts would go to the central office and be put in to the general fund earmarked to offset expenses for the football program.

The board voted unanimously to approve the amended proposal.

"We are in a stretch right now where we have many more boys than girls in the [athletic] system," said Lash, as he addressed concerns of Title XI, which requires equal access to male and female student-athletes.

He expressed frustration in the fact that cheering is not currently recognized as a sport, and noted the popularity of it within the district.

"I hope that changes in the near future," Lash said.

Lash also said there are many females who serve as managers for various sports, but that is not counted in the participation percentage.

"That access needs to be proportionate to enrollment," said Superintendent Steve Nolan, as he noted the district has 43 percent females.

"With or without football, we have work to do with regard to Title XI," he said.

Lash said, perhaps down the road, the school may look to add an additional female sport, “but there’s a process to get there.”

Football at the high school level was granted a three-year probationary period in January 2015.

In the past three years, the only expense for MVHS has been stipends for the head coach and two assistant coaches, which totaled $10,000.

Medomak Youth Football purchased numerous items through the years, and donated them to the district. Such items include chain set for dial-a-down marker, yard-marker set, pylon set, blocking sled, footballs, along with regular uniform items.

Prior to being recognized as a club team in 2014, under MYF, the high school-aged players participated in the Greater New England Youth Football League.

Courier Publications' sports staff can be reached by email at sports@villagesoup.com or by phone at 594-4401.