November 23, 2013

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: 4-class system a success

Thrillling state championship games prove committee got it right.

By Matt DiFilippo mdifilippo@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — On Friday and Saturday, fans, players, and coaches of four teams could look back on the day and say it went perfectly.

So could quite a few people involved with the Maine Principals’ Association.

If this weekend was the ultimate test of the viability of the four-class system, then everybody watching knows how that test went. The games were thrilling, the excitement was unmatched by any group of football state championships that anyone could remember, and the process that led to the four-class system was verified.

“When we first addressed it, there were a lot of people who were against it,” said Mike Haley, a longtime Maine football coach who sat on the MPA’s football reclassification committee. “Some for very selfish reasons, but some, trying to be realistic that it wouldn’t work. They voiced that, and instead of the committee saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to jam it down everybody’s throat,’ they took the time to do it right.”

After Friday night’s thriller between Cony and Kennebunk, people wondered whether they had just seen the best-ever football state final in Maine. After Bonny Eagle beat Cheverus in Saturday’s first game, people said that game might have been even better. Then came Oak Hill and Bucksport, a 42-35 barnburner, and finding someone who didn’t like what the four-class system brought to Maine high school football was like finding a 5-year old who doesn’t like candy.

“Just tremendous games,” said Mike Burnham, an assistant director with the MPA. “Great finishes. I think the four classes has truly shown, this first year, that it was a great opportunity to balance the sport of football.”

“It’s the best (group of state games) we’ve seen in a long time,” Haley said after the Oak Hill-Bucksport game. “Usually you have one blowout, and there’s not anything that’s come close to being a blowout.”

Haley said the committee took a while to create the new system, but the end result was worth it.

“A lot of people don’t realize, this was a four-year process,” Haley said. “The MPA did a great job. The football committee did a great job. What they did was they sent out a survey to all football-playing schools — AD, principal, head coach. They brought it back, looked it over, saw what concerns there were, addressed those, had another survey, concerning the concerns.

“I know that other sports are considering reclassification: Basketball, baseball, softball,” Haley said. “They would do very well to use the format that the football committee used.”

Whether or not that happens, how many fans would love to see a set of basketball games like the set of football games we saw this weekend? However it got to this point, football got it right, and this weekend’s unsung heroes were the people who made that happen.

“I think that the four-class system is here to stay,” Burnham said.

And after watching the games this weekend, everyone is pretty happy about that.

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243mdifilippo@centralmaine.comTwitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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