Players, coaches and fans aren’t the only ones eager to learn if there will be a fall high school sports season in Maine this year.

Athletic training staffs around the state have been preparing to do their work amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond taping ankles and attending to physical injuries, their job description will add a significant twist if indeed fall sports are contested — monitoring coronavirus-related safety guidelines now being established in an effort to safely play the games.

“It’s going to be very different,” said J.P. Stowe, program manager and athletic training supervisor at Northern Light Sports Health of Bangor.

“Our [training] rooms are considered health care facilities so there’s been a lot of consideration on our part about how we run those clinics safely and effectively, seeing the kids that need to be seen but also making sure that we’re following the proper recommendations for social distancing, disinfection and PPE [personal protective equipment] usage.”

Stowe’s program contracts with 17 area schools for athletic training services. He said each is different in terms of which students are in school on what days, whether students are allowed inside and whether kids are able to leave classrooms.

“We’re just trying to work within the balance of school protocols, and as far as at Northern Light, our protocols and procedures, so we’re doing the right thing for the kids, first and foremost safely but also so they get the care they need,” Stowe said.

New responsibilities for athletic trainers include contributing to the sports planning process at each school, then helping to execute coronavirus-related policies on the practice fields and on game days.

“It’s going to be making sure that they’re coming in with masks, that they don’t unmask until practice starts,” Stowe said, “then when practice is over and they leave they leave with a mask, and that they’re disinfecting their hands when they come in and when they leave.”

Athletic trainers also are being charged with procuring the proper disinfection liquids and using them in the correct manner. That includes leaving surfaces wet for the required time so the liquid kills the targeted germs.

“[We also will be] making sure that during drills there’s certain equipment that shouldn’t be shared,” Stowe said.

He explained that the athletic trainers’ preseason work will include educating coaches and athletic administrators about applying the evolving guidelines, which the Maine Principals’ Association and state agencies are in the process of fine-tuning, in hopes of enabling fall high school sports teams to begin tryouts during the week of Sept. 14.

“They’ve asked us a lot of questions in preparing for this, and we’re hand-in-hand with the athletic administrators within our schools in preparing them for this,” Stowe said. “It’s educating the coaches on proper PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] use and disinfection if we’re not there because we’re evaluating an injury or busy with something else in the school.”

The athletic trainers are making sure the day-to-day operations of activities involving athletes and coaches, and the management of training facilities, are all in compliance with the guidelines.

Athletic trainers at Northern Light Sports Health have undertaken their own preseason of sorts while working with student-athletes at Orono High School, Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield and Belfast Area High School who have participated in the MPA-sanctioned summer conditioning program.

Those efforts enabled the trainers to consider various issues that might arise this fall, such as where to locate isolation areas for student-athletes with COVID symptoms or where to treat students who are remotely learning on a given day and not allowed to enter the school but need to see the athletic training staff before going to practice.

“Everything we’ve put together we call a working document because it’s always changing,” Stowe said.

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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...