Bucksport High School softball head coach Mike Carrier (center) cheers with his team during a 2016 game against Orono. He supports the Maine Principals' Association decision to allow coaches to communicate with players despite the delay of the spring sports season. Credit: Ashley L. Conti

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Bucksport High School softball coach Mike Carrier was elated when the Maine Principals’ Association announced it had relaxed its restrictions that prevented coaches and their spring athletes from communicating about their sports.

The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the start of the spring season until at least May 1, but coaches can now at least provide some guidance to their players. That comes as everyone follows strict stay-at-home rules established by the state and physical distancing encouraged by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

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“This is huge. I’m bored right to death,” said Carrier, who is preparing for his 30th season coaching at Bucksport. “We’re all missing each other. It’s like my family. I’m glad they are allowing us to do that.”

Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday announced a stay-at-home order, effective Thursday, for Mainers who are not performing essential work, buying necessities or seeking medical attention.

Mills did stipulate that citizens may pursue outdoor recreational pursuits such as running, hiking and fishing while complying with distancing and group-size guidelines.

In a normal year, Monday would have been the first day of full-squad preseason tryouts and practices for spring sports at Maine schools.

Seventh-year Old Town baseball coach Brad Goody said the interaction between coach and players is needed.

“It’s definitely valuable,” Goody said. “Any time you can communicate with them and make sure they are doing the right things [it’s good].

“Young kids sometimes think they know it all and this allows you to keep them in check,” he said.

Brewer softball coach Skip Estes, who is in his 15th season with the two-time defending Class B state champions, said talking with athletes helps keep them motivated.

“This allows you to give them some helpful hints about conditioning so they know what they should be doing to get ready for the season,” Estes said.

His major concern for the athletes is properly taking care of their arms. If they don’t stretch, do the proper exercises and throw, he is afraid they will develop issues.

The mentality among the coaches is to have the athletes prepare as though the season will begin, even though that is in question.

“I told the kids I am planning on playing this season. If we don’t, we don’t,” Carrier said. “But if they aren’t ready as far as their arms are concerned, they’re going to wind up with sore arms.”

Mike Burnham, the executive director of the MPA’s interscholastic division, said the role coaches play in the athletes’ lives is important. He said the MPA supports the notion of the coaches communicating with their athletes but must adhere to its recommendations.

In addition to any state and municipal mandates, workouts must be purely voluntary and should not include team gatherings. Coaches also should not monitor or collect data from any such sessions.

Burnham said the MPA has met with the chairpersons of the MPA spring sports committees and the sports medicine committee to discuss the spring season. However, Gov. Mills’ stay-at-home order is in effect through April 30.

Burnham pointed out that efforts in regard to athletics is only a small piece of the MPA’s oversight of Maine schools, which have implemented remote learning after schools were closed in response to the coronavirus.

Carrier said his players would be devastated if they can’t play this season and he would feel bad for all the seniors whose careers would be over. However, the health of all Mainers is the top priority.

“We don’t want anyone to get sick,” he said.

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