The Maine Principals’ Association, after a week of discussions with several state agencies and education groups, on Thursday released its revised guidance for a return to competitive interscholastic athletics during the fall season.
As reported Wednesday by the Bangor Daily News, the plan clears the way for soccer, field hockey, cross country and golf to be played this season, while football and volleyball have been pushed to next year because of the perceived higher risk under the state’s COVID-19 prevention rules.
Football is classified as a high-risk activity and volleyball is played indoors, which made them untenable under Phase 2 of Maine’s Community Sports Activities guidelines.
The proposal calls for no postseason play in soccer or field hockey, but cross country and golf have been cleared for regional and statewide competition, although the formats have not been established.
“We always dreamed about having a senior year and giving roses to our moms on Seniors Night,” Penobscot Valley senior soccer player Emily St. Cyr said. “To go from thinking we weren’t going to have one to having a season feels real good.”
The MPA set Monday for the first day of practice by teams, which may hold scrimmages on Sept. 18 and compete in their first game on Sept. 25. The season will end on Nov. 14.
The fall season originally was slated to begin on Aug. 17.
One caveat involves the Maine Department of Education’s color coding of counties based on their COVID-19 situation. Schools located in counties designated as yellow or red may not hold practices or play games until the county again becomes green.
York County has been deemed yellow after recent outbreaks, which means sports in schools located within its borders are on hold.
The MPA is easing pressure on schools that decide to play fall sports by eliminating the requirement for a minimum of games to be played and by setting the maximum at 10 contests.
Maine is believed to be the last state to make a determination on its fall high school sports season, according to one athletic administrator.
Before it becomes official, the MPA guidelines face a vote by the MPA Sports Medicine Committee and its Interscholastic Sports Management Committee, but it was those entities that previously approved the initial proposal around which the plan unveiled Thursday was designed.
Mike Burnham, the MPA’s interscholastic executive director, stressed that the final call whether to play will be made by individual school districts.
“We recognize that ultimately the final decision on sports will be made by local school districts based on their capacity for implementing the health and safety guidelines as applied to school sports,” he said.
Several districts have already opted out of sports, including Camden Hills of Rockport, Sumner of East Sullivan (RSU 14), Vinalhaven and North Haven. Deer Isle-Stonington will offer only cross country and golf, but not soccer.
The MPA formulated its return-to-play plan with input from the National Federation of State High School Associations, the Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, the Maine Department of Education, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, the Maine Department of Community and Economic Development, the Maine School Superintendents Association and the Maine School Boards Association.
According to the MPA, its “School Sports Guidance: Return to Competition for Competitive Athletics and Activities in Maine,” is now in line with all health and safety protocols implemented by state agencies.
“As the parent of five now-grown daughters, I know how important school sports are in the life of children,” said Gov. Janet Mills, who pointed to the challenges faced by school personnel in teaching under the threat of COVID-19.
“[We] are working hard to welcome students back into the classroom and to allow for fall sports in a way that protects the health of students on the field and in the classroom and that safeguards teachers and staff and members of the larger community,” Mills said.
Maine’s community sports guidelines would allow schools the alternative this fall of playing touch football in a 7-on-7 format or playing volleyball outdoors, if facilities permit. Otherwise, the MPA said it will work with the individual sport committees in an effort to provide competition opportunities in the late winter or early spring.
One athletic administrator said the MPA likely will try to position such seasons so they do not conflict with other seasons that would force athletes to choose between sports.
Maine high school athletes had been shut out of play since April 9, when the MPA canceled the spring season out of concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
AAU basketball and community-based youth baseball and softball were played throughout the summer without any known reported cases of COVID-19.