ELLSWORTH — With the high school football season nearly two weeks away, practices in Ellsworth and Bar Harbor are about to double in size.
Rivals in most sports, the Ellsworth Eagles and Mount Desert Island Trojans practice on their own fields, courts, tracks and mats when the two aren’t playing one another. Yet when the two gear up for the second week of fall football practice in a matter of days, they’ll be doing so side by side.
The Ellsworth/Sumner and MDI football teams will hold a series of joint practices with one another beginning next week. It will be the first time the two have teamed up for such an endeavor since Ellsworth marked its return to varsity football as part of a partnership agreement with Sumner Memorial High School prior to the 2012 season.
“We wanted to do something to help players and coaches for both teams from a strategy and a sportsmanship standpoint,” MDI head coach Mark Arnold said. “You only have so much time before the regular season starts to put in work, and you want to make the most of that.”
The idea came from Arnold, who was previously an assistant under Mark Shields before replacing him in February. Arnold had mentioned the idea to Ellsworth/Sumner head coach Duane Crawford prior to last season, but it was too late for the idea to be implemented.
“Mark had mentioned it to me last year as an idea, and he approached me earlier this year and said it was something he’d really like to try for these preseason practices,” Crawford said. “We were both on board with it and knew it was something that would really benefit both teams.”
Ellsworth and MDI battle for playoff spots and regional and state titles in most sports, but football is a different story. With the Trojans in Class C and the Eagles in Class D, the teams have only played one another in preseason action since the latter’s rebirth.
“We compete with each other every sport and every season, but football is a bit different because you just have that one preseason game,” Arnold said. “We don’t play in the same conference, which means it doesn’t really matter in terms of our records at all, and the two programs have had a good relationship with each other.”
Arnold said the MDI staff handed equipment to 35 players at the team’s first practice of the season Monday morning, and Crawford said he expected to field around 28. Those are healthy numbers for varsity squads in Maine’s C and D classes, but the chance to combine rosters for multiple practices will give the teams even more opportunities.
“What’s a bonus for us on the football side of it is that having more guys allows us to really run the first and second teams,” Arnold said. “When we’re by ourselves, the second team is just kind of holding bags for the first team and not getting as much work. Having that combined number of kids is going be helpful.”
MDI will travel to Ellsworth for the first combined practice, which will be held from 5-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 21. The two teams will practice alongside one another the same time the following evening when Ellsworth/Sumner comes to Bar Harbor.
Those two practices will lead up to the annual scrimmage between the two teams at 7 p.m. next Friday, Aug. 24, in Bar Harbor. Regardless of the winner, both teams will come out stronger after a week together on the field.
“Practicing together will be fun and give us some ideas for that scrimmage, and it’s also not putting either team at a real disadvantage because we’re in separate leagues,” Arnold said. “What it’s going to do is give these kids a chance to play and learn from kids on the other teams that they learned with and grew up with, and that’s what we want to see.”