There is a lot of angst among Maine high school athletes involved in fall sports programs.
That’s because they are still awaiting word on whether they will have a season.
The Maine Principals’ Association proposed a return-to-play plan based on lengthy research and communication with several different state and national agencies.
It listed a host of precautions and protocols to address the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure a safe environment for its fall student-athletes.
In response, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education earlier this week said several elements of the MPA’s return-to-play plan did not conform with some of the state’s COVID-19 guidelines. As a result, the start of the fall season was pushed back another week.
“We are definitely frustrated,” Bangor High School junior quarterback Max Clark said. “We have put in a lot of work. I would hate to see it go to waste.”
Preseason tryouts for fall sports were originally scheduled to begin on Aug. 17 but then they were pushed back to Sept. 8. Now, practices can’t begin until Sept. 15 and the first competitions cannot be held until Sept. 25 for all sports except football, which has an Oct. 2 date for its first countable games.
“It’s very frustrating,” Brewer High cross country runner Olivia Mosca said. “It’s my senior season and I have been looking forward to this since my freshman year.
“I think we should have had an answer by now,” she added.
Brewer High senior soccer player Brendan Saunders said he and his teammates are nervous amid all the uncertainty.
“It’s kind of a scary time. We are all hoping we can play but it has been getting worse and worse, so I don’t know if we will be able to play,” Saunders said.
He pointed out that sports are an important extension of the educational process.
“Sports teach you great life lessons, whether you are winning or losing,” Saunders said. “We just want to get out and play.”
“I have tried to be very optimistic about having a season but it has been a rollercoaster, for sure,” Clark said.
All three athletes understand that the MPA, Gov. Janet Mills and all the other agencies involved are doing everything they can to ensure the safety of the student-athletes.
But all three strongly feel that their sports can be conducted safely.
Football is considered a high-risk sport by the state and the MPA, while soccer is a moderate-risk sport and cross country is low risk.
“It can definitely be done in a safe manner,” Clark said. “We are going to school and there are a lot fewer students playing football than going to school.”
Clark has been watching high school football games on television from states with much higher COVID-19 rates such as Alabama, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
“They are in some hot spots while our county [Penobscot County] just stayed ‘green’ today [meaning students can attend classes in person five days a week],” Clark said. “So it seems like we should be able to do it [safely].”
“I just want to be part of a team again and get out there and have fun together,” Saunders said.
One of the most frustrating parts for the athletes has been not knowing what is going to happen.
“I’m tired of getting mixed answers for every question I have,” Mosca said. “I know safety is the number one priority and, at the end of the day, I will do whatever I can to compete.
“I love running and the competition so much. It’s my favorite thing to do,” she said.
If sports are played this fall, all of the seasons will be shortened. They likely will spill into some mid-November dates, which could mean a cold night on the gridiron.
“I’ll wear three sweatshirts and two winter jackets,” Clark said. “I don’t care who we play or when we play.
“I just want to play.”