CUMBERLAND — The rivalry between the neighboring varsity football teams from Greely and Falmouth high schools could be coming to an end with the merger of the two teams.
The School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors voted unanimously Monday to have Greely players join Falmouth as a cooperative team for the 2019-20 school year. James Coffey, Falmouth’s athletic director, Tuesday said he does not expect his school board to vote on the matter.
The two school departments have applied to the Maine Principals’ Association to form the combined team. An MPA decision could come next week.
Greely’s decision addresses its dwindling participation and allows the school’s athletes to keep playing, according to Athletic Director David Shapiro. Only about a dozen players signed up for last fall’s team.
That was a key reason, he told the School Board, “for us to join forces, if you will, with our neighbor over in Falmouth.”
“We’re not folding up shop here by any stretch of the imagination,” Shapiro added. “It’s just simply not sustainable, with the numbers that we have right now, to go it alone.”
The Falmouth Yachtsmen expect to have about 45 players next year, he said. When its program was starting out about 14 years ago, Falmouth joined Greely’s team temporarily, so Falmouth is now returning the favor, Shapiro said.
Despite having small numbers since its varsity program began in 2003, Greely has remained competitive. While having just 19 players last fall, the team won five games, including a playoff, and for its fourth consecutive year made it to the Class B South semifinals.
“It’s incredible, the success that we have had,” Shapiro said in an interview Tuesday.
Given its sparse roster, Greely had contemplated joining the eight-player football class recently created for small or struggling programs. Instead, it will join Falmouth as a co-op team, and continue participating in the 11-player class.
“Regardless of whether it was an eight-man, or an 11-man, we needed to merge in order to have a program,” Shapiro said.
Greely’s numbers have hovered around the low 20s in recent years. “Ideally we’d have like 25 kids in order for us to sustain 11-man football, and 16-20 for us to go at it for eight-man football,” Shapiro said.
Falmouth coach John Fitzsimmons will lead the combined team – Greely coach David Higgins stepped down at the end of last season – and home games will be played at Falmouth.
The two teams had been each other’s greatest rival, and met each year in a season-ending “rivalry” game known as the “Battle of Route 9.”
“It’s a trophy this big,” Shapiro said as he raised his hand. “And the winner gets to take that home for a year. It’s been a significant rivalry.”
Falmouth currently holds the trophy.
Shapiro said he has discussed the co-op team with students, parents, boosters and the coaching staff, which all support the move.
Sophomore Brady Nolin, who played at the varsity level, said his team would rather merge with Falmouth and remain competitive in the 11-player league than go the eight-person route.
Still, given the rivalry the schools share, he admitted the move won’t be the easiest.
“It hurts a little to have to go to them and be basically their team,” Nolin said. “But as long as I’m playing football, I don’t care.”
Reduced participation at Greely Middle School had already caused its football team to merge with Yarmouth, and Greely High School’s shrinking numbers have prevented the school from fielding varsity and junior varsity teams, which meant putting less-experienced players into varsity action.
“It has scared away some of our kids over the years,” Shapiro said. “For some of our kids to suit up as a freshman and have to play against Marshwood and Biddeford and Kennebunk, it’s a bit much. Because we don’t have a JV program, so if they’re going to play, they play varsity. And that’s a big ask.”
The merger with Falmouth will allow those players to develop at the junior varsity level, he said.
The MPA is expected to OK the co-op arrangement for two years. But if Greely’s numbers swell next year, “we’d have our own team again,” Shapiro said. “We can come back as soon as we feel we have enough players to make a go of it on our own again.”