ELLSWORTH — A decade ago, Duane Crawford set out with a dream to bring football to Ellsworth. As a new decade comes to a close, his vision has transformed fall afternoons and evenings throughout the community.
Since founding the Ellsworth Football League in 2009, Crawford has taken the Eagles from a brand-new program long detached from the community’s history in the sport to a perennial contender with a growing football tradition. Now, it will be up to someone else to build on what Crawford has started.
Ellsworth/Sumner is set to have a new head coach next season after Crawford announced last Wednesday that he intends to resign as the Eagles’ head coach. Crawford first made the announcement via his coach’s show with WDEA’s Chris Popper.
“It’s been a great ride with lots of ups and downs, but it’s a lot of work, and now seemed like the right time,” Crawford told The Ellsworth American in a phone interview Wednesday night. “It’s time for someone else to come in and hopefully help the program take the next step.”
After the Ellsworth Football League spent the first two years of its existence developing its youth ranks and preparing to field a high school team, Ellsworth/Sumner played a junior varsity schedule in 2011 before joining the varsity fold in 2012. The Eagles’ Aug. 31, 2012, contest against Foxcroft marked the first time since 1955 that a team representing Ellsworth High School competed in an official game.
The first three years of varsity play were trying times for Crawford’s Eagles, who went 0-24 during that span. Yet beginning with a 5-3 campaign in 2015, Ellsworth/Sumner posted a stretch of five straight multi-win seasons that included the program’s first playoff appearance in 2017 and another postseason berth this past year as a member of the inaugural eight-man class.
“As frustrating as those first few years were, we had a group of coaches and players who were committed and believe in the end goal,” Crawford said. “It’s been fun to see it pay off the past few years with those wins and trips to the playoffs.”
Crawford played his high school football at Mount Desert Island, where he later became an assistant coach. His 10 years as an MDI assistant included four with his eldest son, Tyler, who graduated in 2009.
Starting with Ellsworth/Sumner’s 2016 season, Crawford spent four more years coaching another of his sons as his youngest, Connor, began high school. With Connor’s 2019 season being his last as an Eagle, the timing made even more sense for his father to hang up the whistle and clipboard.
“He told me at the beginning of the year that this was going to be his last year, so I knew going into the season that this was it for both of us here,” Connor said. “He’s had a great career, and so many kids wouldn’t be in the positions they are now if he hadn’t started the program.”
Up until last season, the work Crawford and his assistants put in came entirely on a volunteer basis; with the Ellsworth Football League operating independently of Ellsworth High School’s athletic department, money for jerseys, helmets, pads, dummies, field equipment and other expenditures had to come from independent fundraising rather than the high school’s athletic budget.
Between those fundraising efforts, maintaining the youth system and coaching the varsity team, Crawford’s role in the Ellsworth Football League was essentially that of a full-time job. In the early stages, he even diagrammed and laid out the league’s original field at Lamoine Consolidated School with Connor’s help.
Yet equally important to Crawford’s on-field efforts have been his relationships off the field; enjoying his lauded burgers at lakeside cookouts and spending fall afternoons watching NFL games at the Crawford residence have become staples for current and former Ellsworth/Sumner players, many of whom refer to him as “Dad.”
“Duane was a father figure to me,” said Colby College’s Javon Williams, who was an All-Little Ten Conference selection for Ellsworth/Sumner in 2017 and 2018. “He treated me like his own son, and he believed in me and didn’t hold me back. I feel like he made us all part of his family.”
Because Crawford had yet to officially submit his letter of resignation as of Wednesday night, Ellsworth Athletic Director Josh Frost was unable to provide a timeline for the hiring of the program’s next head coach. Frost said that information will be provided once Crawford’s resignation has been made official.
As for Crawford, he will continue to work his primary job at First National Bank as he takes in Connor’s final season with the boys’ basketball team. Moving on without the only head coach it’s ever had won’t necessarily be easy, but Crawford believes the foundation is there for Ellsworth/Sumner’s success to continue.
“It’s been a lot of work, but it’s all been worth it,” Crawford said. “Football is cyclical, but we have so many invested kids and parents in this community. Whoever comes in next has a lot to be excited about.”