BAR HARBOR — Eight-man football is coming to Mount Desert Island High School next fall because of a shortage of players for the traditional 11-man squad.
MDI will join the 10 high schools in Maine that switched to the eight-man format this year.
Athletic Director Bunky Dow told the high school board Monday night that there were barely enough players to field an 11-man team for the season that ended last month.
“We started the season with 32 kids,” he said. “In our first JV game, we had three freshmen injured and out for the rest of the season. So, we were down to 29 kids. And of those, there were eight kids who should never step on the field for a varsity contest.”
Dow said the outlook isn’t much brighter for next year.
MDI could try to keep playing the 11-man version of the game, he said.
“But if you have to forfeit or you cannot complete the season, you’re out for two years. I don’t want to get into that situation. We almost had to do that this year.”
Another option is to drop football altogether.
“But I would not recommend that,” Dow said, “because there are 25 students who are doing something positive. We’re keeping them out of trouble for the most part. They enjoy playing the game, and I believe they still want to.”
He said this year’s football players were informed last week of the decision to go to the eight-man format.
Principal Matt Haney said the switch was an administrative decision that did not require the school board to take action, but Dow said he would like to have the board’s support. The board voted unanimously to endorse the decision.
The ten high school teams that played eight-man football this year were Boothbay, Ellsworth/Sumner, Gray-New Gloucester, Maranacook, Mount Ararat, Old Orchard Beach, Sacopee Valley, Telstar, Traip Academy and Yarmouth. Those schools were divided into two divisions with the large-school champion (Mount Ararat) topping the small-school champion (Old Orchard Beach) for the state title.
Should the Maine Principals’ Association maintain a single class of eight-man football with the current enrollment cutoff (350 students), MDI would compete in the large-school division. Further changes to the eight-man format could be coming, though, as the Portland Press Herald reported last month that anywhere from 6-10 more teams are expected to make the switch to the eight-man code for the 2020 season.
Eight-man football has already produced positive results for one Hancock County high school team, Ellsworth/Sumner. Although Ellsworth/Sumner has experienced its own number crunch in recent years, the introduction of eight-man this fall allowed the Eagles to field a competitive team despite beginning the season with only 15 players on the roster.
“We wouldn’t have been able to play without eight-man,” Duane Crawford, Ellsworth/Sumner’s outgoing head coach and a former player and assistant coach at MDI, told The Ellsworth American last month. “I think eight-man where the future lies for a lot of programs.”
MDI originally intended to make the switch to eight-man football last year after the Maine Principals’ Association unveiled a classification plan that called for three 11-man classes and two eight-man classes. But the Trojans instead chose to remain in Class C North after the MPA scrapped that plan in favor of four 11-man classes and one eight-man class.
Dow acknowledged that travel is a concern as Ellsworth/Sumner is the only other eight-man team within relative proximity of Bar Harbor. But he noted that some of them are closer than a few of the schools MDI regularly plays, such as Houlton, Presque Isle and Caribou.
Dow said he hopes MDI’s switch to eight-man football will encourage some other schools to do the same.
“Hopefully, we can be a trend setter and some other schools will follow us. I’ve spoken to a couple, and they want to wait and see who else goes.”
Mike Mandell contributed to this report.