In this 2018 file photo, then-sophomore Logan Martin plays during the second quarter of a Friday night game. Credit: Stuart Hedstrom | Piscataquis Observer

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, call the Maine Crisis Hotline at 888-568-1112.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Perhaps no one in Maine is more eager for the high school football season to begin than Logan Martin.

The Foxcroft Academy senior is one of the more talented players in the region, a first-team All-Little Ten Conference selection in 2019. He scored a touchdown once every 4.8 times he touched the ball whether as a rusher, receiver or after intercepting a pass.

“Every time he gets a chance to touch the ball there’s an opportunity for him to score,” Foxcroft head football coach Danny White said.

Martin carried 90 times for 750 yards and 15 touchdowns, made 44 pass receptions for 725 yards and 11 TDs, returned three interceptions to the end zone and added two kick-return touchdowns last fall. He hopes a strong final season at Foxcroft not only will lead the Ponies deep into the Class D playoffs but advance his pursuit of a college football career.

Yet football is important to Martin for another reason. He uses it as a sanctuary from his battles with depression and anxiety.

That’s why he is eagerly awaiting Thursday’s Maine Principals’ Association decision on whether to offer fall sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In middle school I struggled with some personal things, it was just me starting to figure out who I am, and then when I got to high school the depression and anxiety were more serious,” he said.

“I get panic attacks everywhere, whether I’m walking down the street or sitting in class at school. I’ve had to leave class many times just from panic attacks, and my depression comes from thinking, ‘Why do I feel this way?’ It just all strings along.”

While medication and regular visits to a therapist have helped, there’s no better way for Martin to escape than playing football.

“A lot of people that are really happy and love life have something they’re passionate about and have something that money can’t buy, and that for me is football,” Martin said. “When I don’t have football I don’t have that thing I’m passionate about, that thing I love to do.”

The 17-year-old Martin said playing sports also bolsters other elements of school life, including academics, where he carries a 3.4 grade point average.

“Without football I probably wouldn’t give as much effort in the classroom,” he said. “Honestly, football’s saved me from a lot of stuff.”

The mental health challenges for high school athletes who initially lost the chance to compete last spring due to the coronavirus — Martin would have played baseball and run track after playing basketball during the winter — are not lost on the educational community.

A nationwide survey released in late June by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health found that due to the cancellation of youth sports since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 68 percent of 3,243 student-athletes reported feelings of anxiety and depression that typically would require medical intervention.

“The results of the study are both striking and concerning,” said Dr. Claudia Reardon, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

“We know that exercise and physical activity are powerful antidepressant and anti-anxiety interventions, and we strongly encourage public health experts and school administrators to thoughtfully consider both the benefits and risks of prolonged school closures and sport cancellations.”

The onset of Martin’s depression and anxiety preceded the coronavirus pandemic.

MPA interscholastic executive director Mike Burnham said one key topic as the MPA and its committees have considered whether to field interscholastic sports this fall has been, “the social and emotional well-being of these kids, the mental-health issue if we were to lose a second consecutive season for these young people.

“We know the importance that these school-based activities and teams play in the overall education, and that the mental health issues — depression, suicidal thoughts, increased use of drugs and alcohol — these were all issues that we’ve raised,” he added.

Just after the MPA’s Aug. 18 Interscholastic Management Council meeting ended without the MPA announcing a decision on the return-to-play issue, Martin took his personal story to social media and was surprised by the hundreds of responses he received.

“Whether it was people speaking for their kids or kids speaking for themselves, a lot of people opened up and I can’t even describe the feeling,” he said.

“I don’t want people to feel sorry for me, it’s what a lot of people struggle with. I’m not alone on this. It’s an everyday thing, but something I’ll get through.”

White said the post was an example of the leadership Martin, who was a football team captain as a junior, has shown during his athletic career.

“Logan was very bold in coming out and telling people these issues that he’s dealt with his whole life, and I give him nothing but respect for that,” White said. “This is truly impacting kids from all over, and maybe he’s inspired some kids to ask for help because they’ve felt a certain way and didn’t know how to deal with it.”

Martin said he might seek out other football options to boost his college football goals if the MPA does not sponsor fall sports, though his preference is to remain at Foxcroft.

“Growing up I remember high-fiving [former Foxcroft standouts] Pete Boyer, Donnie Boyer, Hunter Smith and Hunter Law and thinking, ‘I want to be like those guys some day,’” Martin said. “I’d go home after a football game or a basketball game and line up in my living room with a football or basketball in my hand and commentate just like I was one of the guys.

“Now that I’m in their position we may not even have a season, and that stinks. If we don’t have a season I’m going to have to accept that, but if we have a season I’m going to play.”

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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...