Season Cancelled: Too Small For Sports

In football, the hard hits and injuries are just part of the game.

But at one high school in Maine, the threat of serious injury got so bad, they decided it was no longer safe to field a team.

Administration at Camden Hills Regional High School in Camden, Maine, decided to pull the plug on the football program in the middle of the season, after the team's fourth game.

"I knew based on the age of our kids, the number of injuries that we had, that the administration was putting kids at risk if we let them play," said Principal Nick Ithomitis.

He said their last game, against Bucksport High School, was a difficult one to watch. Ithomitis was in the stands, and watched several players get injured. He said two were taken to the hospital, one of whom for a concussion.

The team was already a small squad. As more players were injured, he said the bench became dangerously small.

"I don't think we were getting a lot more injuries than a normal football team would," said Ithomitis, "but we didn't have the numbers to fill in when players got hurt."

He said at the following Monday practice, only 11 players showed up ready to play. So Ithomitis called a meeting, and made a tough decision: the football season would have to end.

"To have three people say that the program is shut down, it's not right," said co-captain Mason Mahonen. "It's more than a sport. We love to do it."

His teammates say months later, they're still upset about the decision.

"All those years, it kind of seemed like it was all gone," said Taylor Crosby, a senior co-captain.

Camden Hills Athletic Trainer Chris Audet said he's just as disappointed as the students about the cancellation of the season -- but he understands why it had to happen.

"It made me sad, but I think it was the right decision," said Audet, "just because of the numbers we couldn't put on the field."

Audet believes the minimum number of players a high school football team should have is 22.

"It's a demanding game, and if they're playing offense, defense, and special teams, as the athletes get more fatigued, their form tends to break down a bit," said Audet. "As their fatigue level increases, there's that predisposition for an injury."

There are no strict guidelines for the minimum number of football players for the Maine Principals' Association, the governing body for Maine football teams.

MPA Assistant Executive Director Mike Burnham said he thinks 20 players is a safe minimum number.

"When you get below 20, you start to get concerned," said Burnham.

He said there are several football programs in Maine that are at, or below, the 20 member mark. Even if the MPA sees a team that could be "too small" to safely compete, they won't intervene.

Burnham said it's up to administrators to decide how small is too small for certain sports.

"They know their kids," said Burnham. "They know their program. They're certainly aware of the injuries, and what they're putting their kids up against. So I think it would be tough for us to make that call, not knowing their kids and their abilities."

In Camden, there may be a compromise. Students, and parents, have been asking for football to come back. Principal Ithomitis says it might -- at the junior varsity level.

"I think we can make it work," said Logan Millikin, who is recovering from a concussion he suffered playing football this season. "We just want to be able to play football again."

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