High school football

Calling an audible: Windjammers plan to drop to eight-man division for 2020

'We're making this decision because it gives our program the best chance to succeed at this time' - Jeff Hart
By Mark Haskell | Jan 10, 2020

Rockport — By and large, there is not a class the Camden Hills Regional High School football team has not been part of since it became a varsity program in 2009.

So, why not one more?

Camden Hills athletic director Jeff Hart has notified the Maine Principals’ Association — the governing body of most high school varsity sports in the state — of the school's intention of changing to eight-person football next fall.

It is the latest of a bevy of audibles the Windjammer program has made the past 11 years, several of which were amidst safety- and competition-related concerns, and some of which were due to the state's ever-changing high school football landscape the past decade.

“We're making this decision because it gives our program the best chance to succeed at this time,” said Hart. “Factoring into that is the fact that all the schools that I talked to that went to it this past year were really happy with their decision.I wouldn't be surprised if there were some schools who have not yet made the decision to do eight-man, but will decide to do it after they see which schools have made the move.”

In 2009 the Windjammers began as a varsity program in Class B. Then as the state’s classes rose from three (A, B and C) to four (A, B, C and D) in 2013, the Windjammers petitioned to move down to Class C in 2013 and later to Class D in 2015.

Camden Hills then cancelled the school’s varsity football program three games into the 2015 season, citing safety concerns due to a shortage of players.

After a brief stint as a junior varsity program in 2016, the Windjammers returned to the varsity ranks in 2017 in the newly-created Class E, designed as a class for schools that had dropped from varsity status or were in danger of being forced to drop due to low participation numbers.

Then, in 2019, the MPA discontinued the developmental Class E and replaced it with eight-man football.

Eight-man football, which is played with three fewer players per side than traditional 11-on-11 football is, for all intents and purposes, the same, with two less linemen and one less “skill position” player (running back/wide receiver) on the field at any time.

The dimensions of the field also become more narrow than traditional 11-on-11 football.

Last year, Camden Hills declined to take part in eight-man football and petitioned down to Class D.

During its time petitioning down to Class C or Class D — being four of the last seven years — the Windjammers have been ineligible for postseason play, which is customary for schools playing below its enrollment class. The Windjammers were eligible for the Class E postseason in 2017 and 2018.

Hart said while the Windjammer football program has “right around 30 players on the roster this year, but when you factor in some injuries, I would guess we were below that for much of the season.”

He added that while he is unsure how the football players will react to the change, “I do feel like I know kids well enough to know that they just want to win, and we believe this gives us the best chance to do that.”

Last year, 10 teams took part in eight-man football, five in the small-school division (350-or-fewer students) — Old Orchard Beach, Boothbay Region, Sacopee Valley of Cornish, Traip Academy of Kittery and Telstar of Bethel — and five in the large-school division (351-or-more students) — Maranacook of Readfield, Mount Ararat of Topsham, Yarmouth, Ellsworth/Sumner of East Sullivan and Gray-New Gloucester.

Hart said the move to eight-man is not a step backward for the Windjammer program.

“I think we're going to be amazed how many schools make the move,” he said. “I might be wrong, but that is the sense that I'm getting. If this gives us a better chance to win, then kids are going to want to be involved, which, in turn, means more players will play.”

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