ELLSWORTH — The future of America’s game in Ellsworth is now in the hands of the city’s largest sports organization.
As of last week, Ellsworth Football League operations have been absorbed by the Down East Family YMCA. The move marks a new era for both the EFL and the Y as both look to keep the sport thriving in the community after a decade of growth.
The EFL had been run by founder Duane Crawford and a small group of dedicated volunteers since its inception in 2008. The founding of the league ended a span of more than 50 years without football in the Ellsworth community after the high school abandoned varsity play following the 1955 season.
Yet with members of the EFL’s volunteer corps taking on additional outside commitments this year, the league had been looking for an organization willing to take on the numerous responsibilities that come with youth football. For Crawford, the Y immediately stood out as an appealing option to take on that task.
“We just took a look at the upcoming season, and it was just going to be too much for a couple people to do,” Crawford said. “The Y was the obvious choice for us to hand the program over to because they’re equipped to do this thing.”
The Y, spearheaded by Youth Sports Director Shane Lowell, was eager to help. Although the organization has not offered football as part of its own programming before, it boasts experience running the sport at the youth level after taking charge of Bucksport’s program for grades 3-6 three years ago.
Matt McInnis, who has helped oversee Bucksport’s youth program since taking over as the Bucksport YMCA’s director a year ago, has been aiding the process in Ellsworth during the early stages. With both programs set to operate on similar schedules this fall, the former Portland High School and Husson University quarterback is operating on an ideal timetable.
“So far, [the process has been] focused on gathering information as to what is needed in terms of the equipment and the cost,” McInnis said. “It’s just a great opportunity for the Y to branch out even more and have an impact on the youth in the area, and with the schedules being so similar, it works out really well.”
The transition, Crawford, Lowell and McInnis all agreed, has been a smooth one thus far. Although the absorption of the EFL into another organization might seem like a significant change, all parties have been committed to maintaining the league’s structure.
“We’ve really set them up to continue that same mode of operation,” Crawford said. “We had some funds available that we used to get them started, and we’re also going to make a donation to the high school. They know what they’re doing with these programs, and they’re set up to keep things moving.”
The Y’s takeover means Crawford will no longer be tasked with fundraising, hiring coaches, ordering uniforms, securing insurance and other responsibilities that come with an executive role. Yet Crawford won’t be out of the local youth football picture completely as he plans to help the league with coaching and training in the coming months.
Crawford remaining in the EFL picture, Lowell said, played a big role in the Y’s decision to take over league operations. The league founder and former Ellsworth/Sumner head varsity coach’s continued engagement will ensure local youth football keeps a steady hand as those involved with the sport push toward normalcy following a season turned upside-down by COVID-19.
“Keeping Duane involved was a determining factor for me because he’s been so involved in Ellsworth football and keeping things going over the years,” Lowell said. “When he said he wanted to stay involved, that was the sign to me that said, ‘OK, this is the right thing to do.’”
Both Lowell and Crawford are optimistic about the program’s numbers in the coming season. After the EFL secured 55 players for last year’s flag season despite not fielding a 3-4 program, Crawford is hoping for as many as 80 participants this fall.
“I think with the pandemic that there’s going to be pent-up demand for all fall sports, and I certainly hope for football that we’re going to see that,” Crawford said. “I know from having talked with Shane that he already has two flag teams for this spring ready to go.”
That coming spring flag season will be the EFL’s first football activity under the Y’s watch. That might mean different people in charge of sign-ups, organizing, finances and promotions, but the structure of the league that’s built a football culture in Ellsworth from scratch over the past 13 years will remain in place.
“We’re going to keep everything the same as it’s always been,” Lowell said. “We know how successful the Ellsworth Football League has been, and we want to keep things running that way. We’re going to work to keep growing it and getting kids involved.”