Dexter eyeing move to 8-man football

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DEXTER — The program can still reverse field and stay at the 11-player game, but Dexter Regional High School is looking to be among a number of Maine high school football teams — including much of the Little Ten Conference (LTC)/Class  D North — shifting to 8-man football when the 2020 season kicks off in August. The SAD 46 school board supported the transition with a formal motion during a March 4 meeting at the Ridge View Community School. A timeline would be determined by the superintendent and principal.


Dexter Principal Stephen Bell, who played for the Tigers during the 1980s, said a forum on the potential move took place last month with about 25 in attendance. “The bottom line is if you follow football in Maine there’s a lot of change,” he said with about 10 programs playing an 8-man game for the first time last fall. Bell said reports from these schools have been positive.


He said Dexter has a long gridiron tradition, including being a founding member of the LTC in the early 1950s and winning three state championships in four years during the mid-1980s. “This is not something we are taking lightly,” Bell said. “The bottom line is there’s as many as 16 schools looking to go to 8-man football next fall.


He said many LTC schools are looking to make the move, Houlton, Mattanawcook, Mt. View, Orono (which did not field a varsity squad in 2019), Stearns and Washington Academy. Foxcroft Academy and Bucksport are looking to stay at 11-player football and in D South only four programs (Lisbon, Madison, Oak Hill and Wintrhop) are opting to stay where they are. Bell said he is not sure how next season’s schedule would look as the Maine Principal’s Association needs to determine how many football classes there will be in 2020.


Observer file photo/Stuart Hedstrom
GOING 8-MAN — A gang of Dexter tacklers stop a 2-point conversion during a 2019 LIttle Ten Conference/Class D North semifinal victory vs. Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln. Dexter is looking to move from 11- to 8-man football for the 2020 season, joining many other LTC programs including Mattanawcook.


He said non-Class D programs such as MDI, Waterville and Cheverus are also moving from 11 to 8 players, and there could be over a dozen teams across the state switching.


“8-man football I can assure you it’s the same, other than three less on each side,” Bell said. He said the field is still 100 yards long but the gridiron is narrower. “It’s offense, defense, special teams, blocking, tackling. It’s football, it’s just less kids on the field.”


“Instead of seven people on the line of scrimmage you have five and one less back,” head coach Andrew Shorey said.


In 2019 Dexter finished with a record of 8-2, with both losses coming against Bucksport including 46-8 in the Class D North championship. Bell said the Tigers beat Foxcroft Academy, but the win was the team’s first in the rivalry in three decades and the principal said this has to be considered along with the possibility of playing D South programs that are also traditional powers.


“You have to look at what the schedule looks like and ask is that the place for our kids?,” Bell said, also mentioning travel concerns with playing southern Maine teams and familiarity should Dexter still play most of its LTC rivals.


“Our numbers the last few years have been good,” Shorey said, with the roster having 30-plus players in 2019. “I expect to be good next year, 25-30.”


“It’s not next year I’m worried about, it’s years after that,” he said. Shorey said about 20 players took part in middle school football and 15 in grades 4-6 participated in the sport. 


“Our goal is to play 11-man but we may not be there for a while,” Shorey said.


“As numbers dwindle you look at those bigger schools,” Bell said with player safety another consideration for the move. “I think this allows us to stay competitive. But (the school board vote) would leave the door open to 11-man.”


Bell said at 8-man Dexter would have a junior varsity program.


“I think this allows us to have a better JV schedule than we had,” Shorey said, as the Tigers would face many fellow LTC programs in sub-varsity contests.


Former board chair John Parola was present and when asked his thoughts he said, “11-man football is 11, 8-man football is eight but it’s football.”


He compared the switch to someone getting their first cellphone after having used a landline for their entire life. “You just move on, it’s something that will evolve and keep going,” Parola said.


Shorey was asked for the players’ thoughts and he said he has met with the upperclassmen. “They seemed very open to it and liked the idea,” he said. The head coach also said he fully supports the move to 8-man.


Bell was asked about how the switch could impact the chances of a player looking to pursue the sport in college. “If you are talented enough, they will find you,” the principal responded.


“We firmly believe 8-man football is the way to go unless something with the Maine Principal’s Association comes up that has us thinking staying in 11-man football is best,” Superintendent Kevin Jordan said.


In other business, Jordan said he is getting updates nearly every hour on the coronavirus. “Essentially where we are at this point is we are operating as we are every year at this time with the flu virus,” he said.


Jordan said simple precautions such as hand washing, proper coughing, staying home when feeling ill, etc. are being encouraged. He said district officials have met to review the pandemic plan, which is part of the larger SAD 46 emergency plan.


“If this progresses to a more serious situation we will address how we handle it if school is closed for a long stretch,” Jordan said. He said a decision such as this would be made in consultation with local health officials and possibly those from the state.


“We don’t have any extensive out of state travel as of now,” he said about field trips. Some high school students will be heading to Costa Rica in June and Jordan said this excursion could be discussed at a later time if need be.


“We are preparing people for a potential but this is not an alarm thing,” board member Brian Sawtelle said. “Let’s not react in a way that will panic the community.”


Jordan also said the budget committee met the week before and groups developing the 2020-21 spending plan will have sessions every week through April. “We reviewed the fiscal year 2020 budget,” he said. “Where we stand two thirds of the way through, at this point there are no issues.”


He said the committee has reviewed revenues projected for the next academic year. “We have a little additional state money coming in, that’s always a positive rather than less money coming in,” the superintendent said.

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