Ellsworth High School’s Tyler Mitchell dives back to first base beating the tag by Hermon High School’s Cody Hawes during the the 2019 Class B North baseball championship game. Maine athletes and coaches are in a holding pattern as they await the start of the spring season. Credit: Gabor Degre

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Whether running along a city sidewalk or pitching to a pal, high school athletes around the state are excited about the start of the spring sports season.

Nearly two weeks still remain before formal practices would have begun for most spring sports teams. The exception to that March 30 preseason debut was the annual extra week for baseball and softball arm conditioning.

But this year the wait for opening day figures to run at least another month after the worldwide coronavirus pandemic prompted the Maine Principals’ Association to delay preseason spring sports practices until April 27.

“Obviously the virus is the number one issue,” said senior Carson Prouty, the top returning pitcher on the Bangor High School baseball team.

Prouty, recently recognized as the state’s top schoolboy swimmer for the second straight year, is gradually making the transition to the diamond with some informal “stay-in-shape” throwing.

“If there’s not a season that would be heartbreaking,” he said.

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But until there’s a resolution to the virus-related delay in the start of preseason practice, that’s largely the extent of what Prouty and other spring student-athletes can do to prepare themselves for formal workouts and game competition.

Baseball, softball, lacrosse, track and field and tennis are the spring sports sponsored by the MPA.

Except for pitchers and catchers, this week and next week traditionally are part of the MPA’s annual designated hands-off period between the winter and spring sports seasons. This year, it extends into the extra weeks off created by the coronavirus.

That means there are to be no organized team activities — and no coaching — for spring sports programs until those formal practices finally begin.

“When this all started I had some kids call me wanting to know what to do and I just told them that at this point I couldn’t have any involvement,” Bangor baseball coach Dave Morris said.

When Maine coaches will welcome their student-athletes to the opening day of practice is anyone’s guess. The MPA said it will continue to monitor the situation and make changes as needed to ensure the safety of all students.

“We’re going to have to wait and see what the impact of this virus is before we can make that determination,” said Mike Burnham, executive director of the MPA’s interscholastic division.

The MPA explained its stance Monday with a memorandum sent to member schools.

“We would ask each school to treat this time similarly to how you would treat the hands-off time between seasons and during the two-week period in early August,” the memo said. “There should not be any organized team activity between now and the start of the spring season. Coaches should not be organizing individual workout plans for their athletes and there should be no expectation that athletes participate in any type of an organized training program.”

The most recent federal guidelines recommend avoiding social gatherings of more than 10 people, which could serve to limit informal workouts by teammates prior to the start of preseason practices.

“If kids are choosing that, I think they’ve got to be careful because right now they’re being told not to go out in large groups,” Burnham said.

MPA committees for each spring sport are expected to meet next week to begin drafting updated schedules.

The original schedule allowed for the start of regular-season competition in all spring sports on April 16.

Under the new scenario, such competition likely won’t begin until May. That would mean truncated regular-season schedules in part because schools may still require up to two weeks of preseason practices before competition can begin.

“Preseason for all of these sports is to help the student-athletes prepare physically for the upcoming season,” Burnham said. “You can’t just do away with your preseason and expect your kids to go in and just start to perform.”

Another question to be resolved may involve the end of the postseason, which is scheduled to fall on the following dates with state team championships: outdoor track and field (June 6), tennis (June 13) and baseball, softball and lacrosse (June 20).

Could those dates be pushed back to accommodate the late start of the season?

“That conversation hasn’t taken place,” Burnham said. “Is it going to be on the table at some point? Maybe. I think the further you get into the spring and not having practices and games the more apt you are to have that conversation about the ending date.”

In the meantime, athletes around the state like Prouty will continue to prepare in hopes high school sports will be played this spring.

“Our seniors are a great group of guys,” said Prouty, whose team missed out on a postseason berth last spring after Bangor captured five consecutive Class A state championships between 2014 and 2018. “We all have a passion for baseball so we’d like to go out with a bang this season after last season.”

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Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...