In this July 6, 2020, file photo Orono High School basketball players do running drills during the first phase of summer workouts. Orono is among the schools that will return to full team practices on Monday after the Maine Principals' Association and the state approved safety guidelines for the fall sports season. Credit: Natalie Williams | BDN

Now that guidelines for a return to play have been firmly established by the Maine Principals’ Association and state agencies, high school athletic administrators must address numerous challenges.

Schools may compete in soccer, field hockey, cross country and golf with practices starting on Monday — for those districts that have approved sports. Several schools continue to work through those decisions while weighing compliance with COVID-19 safety guidelines.

The first countable games can be played on Sept. 25 and teams will be playing reduced and regionalized schedules. There won’t be any playoffs.

Football and volleyball have been pushed to 2021.

Camden Hills of Rockport, Sumner of East Sullivan, Vinalhaven, North Haven, Pine Tree Academy of Freeport and the Maine School of Math and Science in Limestone are among the Maine schools that have canceled their fall sports. Some hope to move them to the spring.

Bangor Superintendent of Schools Betsy Webb said the Bangor School Department has formed an Athletic Planning Committee made up of representatives from the school committee, administration, coaches, medical professionals and parents to review all guidance. It will then present a plan to the school committee.

“We want to follow the guidance and provide students with opportunities and at the same time keep the safety of all at a forefront,” Webb said.

Bangor High School, the largest high school north of Lewiston, hasn’t held any official team workouts since the onset of the coronavirus, while rival Brewer is among those that have conducted them for months.

Even if given the go-ahead, Bangor teams likely won’t take the field for at least another week. Athletic administrator Steve Vanidestine believes many athletes have been working out on their own, but figures they will need at least two weeks of full practice to be ready to play a game.

“We will move our contests and rearrange our schedule. We will only resume play when we feel our athletes are properly conditioned and ready to play,” Vanidestine said. We’ll play into November if we have to.”

The MPA on July 6 began a phased plan for schools for summer workouts that fell in line with state coronavirus guidelines. In the latest phase, teams could have as many as 50 athletes and coaches outdoors involved with conditioning workouts and skill drills without contact.

Participants were asked to adhere to COVID-19 precautions such as frequent hand sanitizing and wearing of masks when they aren’t exercising.

Only a handful of eastern Maine schools have been holding the optional workouts. Others have been awaiting word from the MPA on the season, and now for school district approval, so many student-athletes have been working out on their own.

In the eyes of athletic administrators, winning has taken a back seat to providing athletes with a safe opportunity to play.

“I told our coaches to focus on the opportunities, not the outcomes,” Brewer athletic director David Utterback said. “There are no playoffs at the back end.”

“There has been a lot of cooperation among the ADs,” Vanidestine said. “It’s safety first. We’ll get started whenever we can if we get the approval.”

Fall teams have until Nov. 14 to play their games or hold their competitions.

“There’s no rush. My target date for our first game is Oct. 1,” Utterback said.

Hermon girls soccer coach M.J. Ball said under these unusual conditions most schools are willing to cooperate to establish a workable schedule.

Ball has led his team through conditioning and skill drills for three weeks with pods of five players. He likes the focus on regionalized schedules because it means his defending Class B North champions will potentially have a chance to play teams they don’t usually play, such as Class A Bangor.

“That will be fun,” he said.

Scheduling may pose a challenge for the athletic directors but Utterback said that is on the back burner right now.

“We still have to wait and see who is still left standing [after the school districts vote],” Utterback said.

Skowhegan field hockey coach Paula Doughty, who is beginning her 40th year as the team’s head coach — with 16 state Class A titles in the last 18 years — is thankful there will be a season after several months of uncertainty.

Doughty said her players were despondent when idle, but have been happier since returning several weeks ago to MPA-sanctioned conditioning workouts and stickwork drills.

“That allowed them to get back into shape and help them out of their depression and social isolation,” Doughty said. “They needed their joy back. This gave them a sense of normalcy.”