Updated: the RSU 40 Board of Directors’ next meeting has changed locations to Medomak Valley High School on Jan. 22 at 7 p.m.
At their next meeting, the Regional School Unit 40 Board of Directors will consider moving Medomak Valley High School’s club football team to varsity status or possibly taking the issue to the district’s voters.
The grades 9 to 12 program started in 2012 as part of the Medomak Youth Football Program, and the school board approved the program as a club team at Medomak Valley High School in January 2014.
District Athletic Director Matt Lash and officials from Medomak Youth Football attended the board’s Jan. 8 meeting to update the board on the club’s status and seek a decision on the varsity move prior to the district’s annual February break.
The club team filled a bye in the state’s Little Ten Conference last fall after Houlton High School joined the conference; an opportunity Lash said was rare.
The Maine Principals Association is ready to accept the club as a varsity team for the coming year, Lash said.
“If we don’t have a decision [on approving a varsity team] before they make [the conference’s] schedule after February vacation, I don’t know if they’ll want to have us back in to fill a bye date for an exhibition,” Lash said.
Board members, however, were reluctant to jump into a decision.
Dennis Wooster, of Warren, pushed for the issue to be taken to referendum.
“It is a big ticket item decision, and I think we should let the citizens of the district decide it,” Wooster said.
Sandra O’Farrell, a board member from Waldoboro, said she didn’t want to make a decision before the district’s annual budget process was complete and any risks of teaching position cuts were addressed.
Washington board member Bob Jones also supported delaying the decision.
“I don’t even want to see a half-time janitor lose their hours because we put football in,” Jones said. “Another year of not having varsity football would not kill the program, and I think we really need to take this to the voters and see if they really want to support this.”
According to Naomi Miller, president of the Medomak Youth Football, the program is willing to continue paying for all the high school level costs for at least one more season, but would ask for the district to start picking up the coaches’ stipends next fall.
A report from Lash to Superintendent Steve Nolan put the stipends for a head coach and two assistants at $10,000, but at the meeting Lash said that number is higher than he would ask for in the coming year and reflects a total for the stipends between 2 to 4 years down the line.
Other expenses outlined in Lash’s report include $3,500 for transportation and $3,000 for officials (both for varsity and junior varsity), $2,000 for annual reconditioning of 50 helmets, $1,000 for athletic field paint, $1,000 for dues and video, and $2,500 on other game staff.
From the start, discussions have not been to abruptly turn everything over to the district and expect it to pick up the tab, Miller said, and community members and business owners are ready to continue their support of the program.
“The outpouring from the community is immense,” she said.
If the school board approves football as a varsity sport, it can decide whether to fund all, none, or some of the costs associated with the sport and to set the time line for phasing those costs in, Miller said.
As far as players’ equipment, Miller said outfitting each player costs between $400 and $500.
“We have all that equipment which has been purchased in the last two years, that certainly, upon attaining varsity level status, would be turned over to the school district, and that’s about $20,000 worth of equipment,” Miller said.
Lash rated the program’s equipment as “close to a 10,” and estimated annual equipment expenses at no more than $5,000.
If the varsity program is approved, Lash said he intends to have the high school’s soccer field pull double duty. He anticipates, upon acceptance as a varsity team, the community would cover the cost of field goals.
“I have a 99 percent certainty, I guess you could say, if varsity football were approved tonight that we would probably have a check by the end of next week to pay for field goals, uprights,” Lash said.
Guy Bourrie, of Washington, was the only board member to voice his opposition to the club team moving to varsity status. Bourrie was among the board members who voted in favor of making the football program a club team last winter.
Bourrie opposed making the club team into a varsity team after “recognizing the very real, cumulative, and lasting consequences of brain injury in this sport,” he said.
Bourrie also described football as “by its very nature a very aggressive and violent sport” and said he sees it “as a reflection of a violent and aggressive society.”
No one discussed revoking the program’s club status, and Brooke Simmons, a board member from Friendship, believes the participants would continue to play football regardless of any board decision.
“Even if we don’t accept them as varsity, those kids are still going to be playing,” she said.
The board voted 533-325 (weighted) in favor of putting the issue on the agenda for their Jan. 22 meeting. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro.