In this October 30, 2019, file photo, Belfast's Hannah Banks (right) tries to get the ball from Winslow's Savannah Joler (left) during the Class B North field hockey championship game at Hampden Academy. The Maine Principals' Association and Maine Departments of Education and Health and Human Services disagree on when and how to allow high school sports to be played this fall. Credit: BDN file photo

The Maine Principals’ Association expects to make its recommendation regarding the high school fall sports season on Aug. 27.

“We will have a decision by next Thursday,” MPA interscholastic executive director Mike Burnham said Wednesday. “There’s a lot of work that’s going to have to be done between now and then, but we’re going to do it.”

The recommendation to be presented to the MPA’s Interscholastic Management Committee might include going forward with all fall sports — cross country, field hockey, football, golf, soccer and volleyball.

It also might recommend a partial slate of sports during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic or having no high school sports at all when students return to classes.

The Massachusetts athletic administrators organization on Wednesday revealed that it plans to have fall sports with the exception of football and cheering.

The fourth and final two-week phase of the MPA’s voluntary summer workout program — created for conditioning purposes after this year’s spring sports season was eliminated — is set to start Monday. Formal fall sports tryouts in most of Maine begin Sept. 8 and the first games would be played Sept. 18.

According to a tweet on Wednesday by WMTW-TV’s Travis Lee, superintendents in Cumberland and York counties are pushing practices back from Aug. 24 to Sept. 8.

Aroostook County schools were eligible to begin practicing Monday to account for the potato harvest break in late September and early October.

One of the biggest questions facing the MPA involves the fate of high school football.

“This isn’t a surprise since it’s out in the open, [but] we all know that we’re going to have to do some work to make football happen just by the nature of that sport,” Burnham said.

“I think we all would love to see football happen. We know what a great event that is, what it means to a community,” he added. “If we can find a way to make it happen, yes, but I think as we move forward I think [the decision on fall sports is] going to be individualized. It has to be.”

MPA staff planned to present their recommendation to the association’s Interscholastic Management Committee on Tuesday but held off while they continue to solicit input from state agencies. Those range from the governor’s office to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention regarding existing state guidelines and how they should be applied to interscholastic sports.

Topics include the different standards for the wearing of face coverings and social distancing between the Department of Education’s Framework for Returning to Classroom Instruction and the more relaxed guidelines issued by the Department of Economic and Community Development for community sports programs such as summer baseball leagues or basketball programs.

While those guidelines do not target Maine’s interscholastic sports, Burnham said they provide the MPA with information to consider.

“The Maine Department of Education’s Framework for Returning to Classroom Instruction does not address interscholastic sports,” said Kelli Deveau, DOE director of communications. “The framework links to pre-K-12 and adult education public health guidance for physical education courses, which are required in Maine schools for all children, and are separate and distinct from voluntary interscholastic sports.”

Deveau also indicated that the DECD guidelines also don’t specifically address high school sports, but community sports activities.

“Given that the administration worked with public health experts earlier this year to prepare this guidance, which is not intended to address school-based athletics, the administration has communicated to the MPA that it will review those guidelines and examine areas of alignment with MPA’s guidance,” Deveau said.

The MPA’s Sports Medicine Committee is scheduled to meet on Aug. 26 and its input is expected to play a pivotal part in the association’s recommendation to the Interscholastic Management Committee a day later.

The final decision on participating in fall sports will be made at the local level.

“We just need a little bit of time to work with all of these agencies to develop these guidelines and make sure they’re in line with the Department of Education, make sure the superintendents agree with this, [and] make sure the governor’s office has a chance to work with this,” Burnham said.

“We want to take a leadership role and bring everybody to the table, do the work and give everybody else a chance to say, ‘This works for us.’”

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Ernie Clark

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...