Football decision due Tuesday

To view survey results, click here.

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

A decision to either stay in Class B or move the Lake Region varsity football program to a Class C schedule will be announced Tuesday.

Lake Region Athletic Director Paul True and SAD 61 Superintendent Kathleen Beecher plan to meet with current and prospective football players Tuesday to announce plans for the 2012 season.

“Unless some unforeseen matter takes place, our decision has been made and will be presented to the players,” said True, after meeting with the superintendent on Tuesday morning.

In a non-binding vote Monday night, the SAD 61 School Board favored keeping the football program in Class B. True said comments by players, who strongly believe Lake Region should remain in Class B, greatly impacted the school board vote.

“I am very proud of the process — a lot of good has come from it,” said True, regarding last week’s public forum on the proposal, as well as the number of people who took part in the online survey. “I am very proud how these young men stood up for what they believe is right and gave their opinions.”

True began exploring the option of moving the football program down a class after the Lakers went 0-8 this past season. With declining numbers and poor results on the gridiron (10-61 over the past eight seasons, just three winning years), True started to explore the idea of moving to Class C when Gray-New Gloucester AD Gary Groves, who was in attendance at last week’s forum, informed him that the Patriots planned to petition the Maine Principals’ Association to also move down. The MPA would likely look more positively on two schools moving down, rather than just one, because of scheduling. A decision to petition has to be made by Jan. 25, since the Campbell Conference (which the Lakers belong to) will set the 2012 schedule at a Jan. 26 meeting.

If the Lakers moved down, the team would not qualify for tournament play.

True told a group of 40 to 50 people at last week’s forum that a potential move to Class C was based on participation and safety concerns. Last season, the Lakers fielded a team of 29. Because of low participation, True was concerned that younger players, not quite ready for varsity play, would be thrust into the line-up against bigger and stronger players, leaving them more susceptible to injury. The league powerhouses, such as Wells and Mountain Valley, carry rosters of 50 or more players. True found that Lake Region would compare favorably with many Class C teams in terms of numbers.

The forum attracted about 10 high school players, as well as six to eight middle schoolers. The middle school team had 32 players, which included one sixth grader.

True opened the forum last Thursday night emphasizing no decision had been made, and that he was simply “exploring” options. He also reported results from an online survey (see sidebar).

Groves, a scholarship football player at UMaine, spoke briefly to the group.

“I am passionate about the game of football,” he said. “I am not here to persuade you.”

Groves spoke about Gray-NG “struggles” since entering the Campbell Conference, and felt the move to a “C” schedule would be “best for the program.” After speaking with players, the school board and superintendent, Groves said a move to Class C would “breathe life into the program” and give the Patriots a chance to “turn things around.”

A former player at Westbrook, Groves initially wasn’t in favor of his former high school leaving the Class A ranks to join Class B. The Blue Blazers had a successful year this fall, rebounding from an 0-4 start to finish the regular season 4-4. Because of school enrollment numbers, Westbrook qualified for the Class B playoffs. The Blazers lost to Wells, the eventual state champ, in the first round.

“(Westbrook) had success for the first time in 26 or 27 years,” he said. “(The move) did inject life and enthusiasm into the community.”

Mike Shea of Naples, whose son was a captain last year, said the program “is not a lost cause” and encouraged officials to find out why numbers have dropped off over the past five years.

True said football had 40 and 42 players on the 2007 and 2008 teams. Then, numbers started to decline: 36 in 2009, 31 in 2010 and 29 this past year. While school enrollment had dropped, True said participation on the boys’ side, has sharply declined. Another problem is the transition of players from middle school to the high school program. LR had just three freshmen, while Wells had 19 (the Warriors had 57 players on this year’s squad), Cape Elizabeth 10, Falmouth 9 and Greely 6. LR has no freshman program, which may be deterring some players from continuing to play football once they first reach the high school.

Several speakers see a need to find a coach who can inject “life” into the program, and whose style will make the game “fun” for players.

Phil Allen of Bridgton, a former LR coach, said SAD 61 needs to do a better job hiring teachers who also have an interest in coaching. He agreed that the program needs a coach who brings “passion” to the job and willingness to develop a strong feeder program. Allen pointed to the success the LR girls’ basketball team has had, noting that coaching is “strong” from top to bottom. Allen also used the Fryeburg Academy softball program as an example. “Did they just starting growing softball players than can win state titles?” he said. Allen pointed to a head coach, who is “excited” about leading the program, a strong work ethic he has players following, and ultimately, “he makes the game fun.”

Allen noted that his son, Todd, transferred to Windham High School for “academic reasons,” and found a different kind of football culture there. Seeing his coach in the hallway one day, Todd was told a young substitute teacher was leading one of his classes that day. The coach asked Todd to “take responsibility and make sure the class stays under control.” Out of respect for his coach, Todd followed his coach’s instructions. In fact, players are asked to sit in the front row.

“We can have that here at Lake Region,” Allen said. “I am passionate about Lake Region football. I hate seeing losing seasons.”

True noted that “all football positions” are presently open. He added that finding a coach is difficult, since the rural area’s candidate pool is rather shallow compared to schools closer to Portland. The last time LR sought a new football coach, True had just two applicants. Many successful programs enjoy a mix of coaches who receive a stipend along with volunteers from the community. Wells has seven coaches; Cape and Falmouth each have six.

While some adults felt a move to Class C, at least for a season or two, might be a good move, players disagreed.

Junior Mike Triglione felt depth and a lack of enthusiasm were the two biggest problems.

“We need to find out why other kids don’t want to play,” he said.

Parent Russell Morton agreed. “By the third quarter, many of our kids are dog tired — it doesn’t matter how much conditioning you do.” Morton encouraged players to “create some excitement” amongst their peers to increase participation.

Junior Derek Douglass said the team had some chances to pull out victories this past year, losing close games to Fryeburg, Gray and Spruce Mountain.

“We were better than 0-8,” he said.

Sophomore Cody Gibbons agreed that players need to sell the sport to classmates. “If each person on the team gets one player to come out, we’ll double our numbers,” he said.

Senior captain Ryan Skillern felt a move from Class B to Class C would be a sign of that the program is “looking for an easy way out.”

“We need to get people energized about football,” he said.

LR alumnus Darren Fickett echoed thoughts about players being salesmen for the sport and that the Lakers should remain in Class B. Back in 1995, Fickett earned varsity pins as a runner. He decided to give football a try his senior year after being convinced by friends to play. He loved it, and wished he had made the change earlier.

Wearing his old high school lettermen’s coat, Fickett read passages from a book written by former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz. Pulling quotes from the book, Fickett told current players that when facing adversity, they can “positively respond to it.”

“You can do this,” he said. “It starts with you guys.”

On Tuesday, the Lakers will learn their fate.

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