2012-08-31 / Sports Spotlight

Football realignment won’t affect rivalries

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


The Scarborough football team, seen practicing on the first day of the fall sports season, is looking forward to an improved 2012 season before divisions are realigned in 2013. Scarborough is expected to remain in Class A West. (Michael Kelley photo) The Scarborough football team, seen practicing on the first day of the fall sports season, is looking forward to an improved 2012 season before divisions are realigned in 2013. Scarborough is expected to remain in Class A West. (Michael Kelley photo) Football teams around the state are ready to start competing as two-a-day practices are replaced with game action in a sign of summer turning to fall in Maine.

South Portland High School opens its season Friday, Aug. 31, when it puts its seven-game home win streak on the line at Martin Field against Windham, but Riot fans are likely already looking forward to the squad’s final game of the year, an Oct. 20 home date against Portland High School in the annual “Battle of the Bridge” game.

Red Riots head coach Steve Stinson, who played for Portland, has been on both sides of that rivalry. His South Portland team is now on a two-game winning streak against the Bulldogs after losing the rivalry game in five of the previous six seasons.

But there will likely be a major shak eup to high school football in Maine after this year’s Battle of the Bridge, and although school officials on both sides say they want the rivalry to continue, that won’t necessarily be the case.

The Maine Principals’ Association has a proposal for the 2013-2014 season that would create four classes of football teams in the state of Maine rather than the current system of three, with each new class based on the size of a school’s enrollment.

South Portland High School and Scarborough High School would stay in Class A West under the new proposal, as both have an enrollment greater than the Class A threshold of 850 students. But Portland, as well as Deering and Cheverus, would move to the East division.

Schools do have the ability to apply up or down in class, said South Portland Athletic Director Todd Livingston, but a school that applies to be in a smaller class would be ineligible for playoff contention. Livingston said the final plan will be officially submitted to MPA member schools at the end of November, and the schools will have a final vote on the proposal this spring.

Livingston, who also serves as the chair of the MPA’s football committee, said the new system makes sense for high school programs in Maine. Creating an extra class and basing each class on enrollment will both create competitive balance in the state and provide smaller schools a chance to compete. But while that is a necessary step to take, Livingston says it’s hard to balance those goals with maintaining traditional rivalries.

“It’s a tough one,” Livingston said. “Schedules aren’t such that you can play everybody every year in football.”

But on the topic of the Battle of the Bridge, he added, “I’d hate to see that game go.”

Stinson said the schedules in the proposed format will allow teams to play some crossover games outside their division, so he hopes South Portland can maintain the rivalry with Portland despite the reshuffling.

“I’m obviously interested in doing whatever we can to try to keep that game going,” Stinson said.

On the Portland side, Athletic Director Mike McCullum said recent changes in scheduling have “forced our hand” as to which rival to maintain on the schedule. Portland will not play cross-town rival Deering this season, but under the new proposal the two schools would presumably play every year in the East division.

McCullum said he believes the proposal is “positive for the league and Class A,” but he didn’t lavish praise on the MPA for the changes.

“Something has to give and therefore I do believe it’s best for Class A football,” McCullum said. “Moving to the East after being in the (Southern Maine Activities’ Association) for as many years as we have, I guess we’re going to have to get used to it. I’m not sure I can currently say I’m pleased with it. We’ll have to see how it all works out.”

Scarborough, like in South Portland, will stay put in Class A West. Head Coach Lance Johnson said he saw a huge advantage to the proposal because it will be easier for athletes in all divisions to “experience a gold ball game.”

But Johnson said Scarborough will miss the annual matchup with Gorham High School if the Rams move down to Class B to accommodate Biddeford in Class A, but he noted that rivalries often change over time. Sanford High School and Thornton Academy in Saco used to have a heated rivalry, but that has since been replaced by rivalries with other programs, Johnson said.

Johnson is set to begin his third year as Scarborough’s head coach, as his team hopes to rebound from a three-win season in which the Red Storm suffered numerous injuries throughout the year. Johnson said his team returns many of its skilled position players, including senior captains Dylan Russo at quarterback and defensive back and Merrick Madden at wide receiver and defensive back.

Coach Stinson’s Red Riots squad is in the opposite situation.

South Portland had a very successful 2011-2012 campaign in which they won six regular season games and made the playoffs.

Stinson said over 20 seniors are gone from last year’s team, and this year’s group features just seven seniors, mostly along the offensive and defensive lines.

But even though there might be a learning curve for his group as the season goes on, Stinson said he is confident in their ability to improve.

“The good thing is, they’re a good group, they’re coachable. They come every day and they want to compete, which you can work with as a coach,” Stinson said.

He will hope the team is playing the best football it canwhen Portland comes to town in the final game of the season.

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