Decision looms over fate of Washington County’s only high school football team

A final decision on whether the state’s lowest high school football team will return to the field this fall is expected next week, according to the Washington Academy’s athletic director and head football coach at East Machias.

The Washington Academy, an independent school that has fielded an 11-player varsity team since 2011, canceled last year’s planned debut in the state’s eight-player preseason ranks due to a player shortage. .

The early cancellation allowed the Raiders to return to college competition this fall. If the team had canceled its schedule after the start of the regular season, it would have faced a two-year suspension under a Maine Principals’ Association rule.

Rich Oliveras, also an assistant school principal at the Washington Academy, has been working to stimulate interest within the school in Washington County’s only college football program.

“We will have a response by the end of next week,” he said. “We’ve met a few times, and we’re meeting again at the end of this week with any potential student-athletes who are interested. We just don’t have a definitive answer yet, but we expect to have it by then, hopefully.

The Washington Academy is the only football-sponsoring high school in Washington County, but there is no youth sports feeding program in the area or the likelihood of the Raiders joining a co-op team, as the nearest eight-player program is 60 miles away in Ellsworth. .

Many high school student-athletes who might participate in the sport are also busy working through the summer until the start of the school year, which comes at least two weeks after pre-season training begins and often after the first week of regular football. season.

Preseason practices for the MPA’s 2022 fall athletic season are scheduled to begin Aug. 16, with the first regular season games scheduled for Friday, Sept. 3. Labor Day will follow on Monday, September 6.

All players who join a high school football team must also complete an MPA-mandated 10-day acclimation period before being eligible to play in a game.

“Our kids rake blueberries and lobster in the summer,” Oliveras said. “If we were to start after school starts when we have our kids, we’d already be in week 2, then with the 10 days of conditioning, we’d already be in week 4.

“It’s just a dating thing.”

The Washington Academy was set to join the state’s eight-player small-school football ranks in 2021 after participating in the 11-player version of the sport since the program was introduced to the school at the college level in 2011.

The Raiders competed as a member of the Little Ten Conference in Class C until 2012, then in Class D beginning in 2013 when the MPA added a fourth class.

The Washington Academy went 0-7 in its final 11-man football season in 2019, but in 2018 went 4-4 and advanced to the Class D North semifinals.

Maine’s 2020 tackling football season has been canceled due to COVID-19 and replaced with 7-on-7 flag or touch football.

The state’s eight-player football ranks have grown from 10 schools in its inaugural season in 2019 to 25 schools last fall, with more modest growth expected this season.

Bucksport High School has approved plans to move from 11-player Class D football to the eight-player small school ranks this year, while efforts also continue to add eight-player varsity teams to Greely High School at Cumberland Center and north of Aroostook County High Schools serving Fort Kent, Madawaska and Saint Agatha.

Greely was part of an 11-man Class B co-op program with Falmouth during the 2019 and 2021 seasons.

The North Aroostook County Co-op entry would replace the region’s Valley Mustangs, a regional team that played in an independent club league that now has just four teams, including one in New Hampshire.

The change would add a second Aroostook County football team – with Houlton – to the MPA ranks and allow the St. John Valley entry to have a full eight-game interscholastic schedule.

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