2013-04-05 / Front Page

Football rivalry will remain for Battle of the Bridge

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – The Maine Principals’ Association will expand the state’s high school football programs into four classes next year, shrinking Class A from 24 teams to 16.

The new four-class system was approved at the MPA’s interscholastic business meeting on Thursday morning, March 28. Biddeford, Scarborough and South Portland football will remain in Class A West, but Kennebunk’s football team will move down a level to Class B West.

Todd Livingston, chairman of the MPA football committee and South Portland High School athletic director, said the purpose of the extra class is to improve the competitive balance in Maine. Adding the extra class reduces disparity in the size of schools that play against each other in the same division, Livingston said.

The new proposal separates South Portland High School and Portland High School into Class A West and Class A East, respectively, but it will not end the annual “Battle of the Bridge” rivalry game that the teams have played for nearly 100 years.

Gordon Salls, the athletic director at Sanford High School, created the football schedule, which the other athletic directors will soon approve. He said even with Portland moving east, the rivalry won’t go away.

“There is a crossover game with Portland and South Portland and will always be,” Salls wrote in an email.

He said that game will be played in the final week of the season next year, as it has been traditionally, but said that schedule can’t be guaranteed in the future.

Portland’s move is one part of the MPA’s attempt to even the gap between programs in the eastern and western divisions of the state. Eight of the 11 high schools in Maine with an enrollment of more than 900 students were in the West division of Class A last year. Western Maine teams have won the Class A state football championship for six straight years, each by a margin of 14 points or more.

Next season, the three high schools in the city of Portland — Cheverus, Deering and Portland — will all move to Class A East, as will Windham High School. Meanwhile, four smaller schools that played in Class A East last year will drop to Class B: Brunswick, Skowhegan, Lawrence and Cony.

The proposal also aims to eliminate situations in which small schools such as Kennebunk compete against conference opponents with many more athletes to choose from. Kennebunk High School’s enrollment is 715, but the Rams matched up with five schools with more than 1,000 students last season.

Thor Nilsen, athletic director at Kennebunk High School, said the drop down should help the football program.

“It’s just a more fair situation for us, playing against schools that are our same size. We’ve got a good program, but trying to compete week in and week out against schools that carry anywhere from 70 to 90 athletes, its really an awful lot to ask from our kids,” Nilsen said. “We’ll be in a much better place competitively.”

Livingston said the new model is an improvement that should help small schools compete, but the system is far from perfect.

“When you classify by enrollment, you’re never really going to be able to say that we really have the most competitive model we can. Certain communities have large enrollments but not the demographics or tradition,” Livingston said.

The other major challenge of the new proposal was limiting travel times while classifying schools based on enrollment. Class A West includes schools only from York County and Cumberland County, but the eastern division schools are much more spread out.

Bangor High School, the third largest high school in the state, will have its students travel more than 100 miles for each of its road games against Class A East opponents. However, Livingston said that the schedule will switch the following year, meaning the teams that had to travel from the Portland area to Bangor will host the Rams the following season. He said the arrangement is not ideal, but the alternating schedule should help spread out the burden.

The new four-class football system will take effect for the upcoming 2013 season. Fall athletic practices begin at the end of August.

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