The Camden Hills girls soccer team hoists the gold ball on Saturday night after beating Scarborough 2-1 in the Class A state championship game in Hampden. Camden Hills announced that they are suspending their fall sports season due to the pandemic. Credit: Ali Tobey / BDN

Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport on Friday became the first traditional Maine secondary school to cancel its fall athletics programs.

Mike Bisson, assistant executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association, said the Maine School of Science and Mathematics also has cancelled its fall sports programs. The Limestone-based institution is a magnet school.

On the school’s athletics Facebook page, Camden Hills Principal Shawn Carlson informed students and parents of the decision.

“We have reached the point where we can no longer wait to see if the MPA or State of Maine will even allow interscholastic athletics,” Carlson said.

“We have come to the disappointing conclusion that there is no way to adequately minimize the risks of mixing our student population with other school populations in thinking about league competition,” he said.

Carlson explained that the school’s top priority is to keep its students healthy in order to facilitate in-person learning when schools reopen. He said Camden Hills will offer a modified athletic program.

Athletics director Jeff Hart is tasked with formulating exactly what that would entail. It likely will include practices and intrasquad competitions directed by school coaches.

“This is one of the saddest days in my professional career,” Hart said in his own Facebook message on the school athletics page.

“I can’t think of a scenario where I would have guessed we would be in this situation. I want everyone to know this decision was made by people who care deeply about this community and the students and their families who are impacted by this the most,” he said.

Hart guided the Windjammers boys basketball team to 503 wins and six state Class B championships in 37 years before moving into administration.

“We do have to allow ourselves to mourn but then we have to get moving forward,” Hart said. “We have to try not to look at it as a catastrophe, we have to try to figure out a way to make it our finest hour.”

Bisson said several school districts also are contemplating pulling the plug on their fall sports programs, but that Camden Hills was the first to notify the MPA. He noted that a lot of schools are waiting for the MPA’s guidance.

The MPA revealed earlier this week that it intends to announce its decision about sponsoring fall high school sports on Thursday, Aug. 27, after receiving further clarification about COVID-19 protocols.

“It’s a complex issue,” Bisson said. “I can see both sides of it. You want to keep the kids safe but I also know kids need sports. It’s what drove me in high school. I wanted to be with my teammates and play the sport I loved.”

Camden Hills boasts one of the most dominating girls soccer programs in the state. Coach Meredith Messer’s team would have been seeking its fifth consecutive state Class A championship this fall.

“Through the conversations we have had, I kind of thought it was coming,” Messer said of the shutdown. “They wouldn’t have made this decision unless they felt they were absolutely 100 percent correct in terms of the safety of the kids.”

Messer, who teaches math at Camden Hills, agreed the districts No. 1 priority is to get the students back to school where they can learn safely.

“I respect that. They know sports is important: healthy body, healthy mind,” she said.

Messer feels bad for her seniors, many of whom already lost the spring sports season in another sport because of the coronavirus.

“They have been looking forward to leading our program, so this is devastating for them,” Messer said. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do something this spring,” Messer added. “The camaraderie is so important for the kids.”

Camden Hills boys soccer coach Ryan Hurley spent Friday consoling his seniors. He always conceded that the possibility of not playing the fall season was real.

“I was hopeful, with some of the best COVID numbers in the country, we’d have a chance to play a bit. But there are no good choices right now absent a medical intervention,” Hurley said.

Camden Hills High School is in Rockport, which is in Knox County.

There have been only 28 COVID-19 cases and one death in Knox County. Only Washington County (15 cases) and Piscataquis County (7) have fewer among Maine’s 16 counties.