HOULTON, Maine — Fall sports are officially a go for southern Aroostook County athletes as four of the five local school boards have given their endorsement to soccer, cross country and golf.
The Maine Principals’ Association has pushed football to spring, but teams may practice and hold intrasquad scrimmages this fall.
The RSU 29 (Houlton), SAD 70 (Hodgdon) and SAD 14 (East Grand) school boards all approved fall sports during their respective school board meetings on Monday. RSU 50 (Southern Aroostook) approved fall sports in August.
The RSU 89 (Katahdin) school board meets Thursday to discuss the matter, but athletic director Dylan Harris said teams have been told they can begin practice, using summer workout guidelines, with COVID-19 precautions.
Under state guidelines, schools may have only 100 people at an event. That includes players, coaches, officials and fans.
County schools will permit only fans from the host teams to attend and fans must wear face coverings and maintain six-foot social distancing.
RSU 29 Superintendent Ellen Halliday said each player will each be given two passes for their parents or family members to attend soccer games.
“We will have to cut it off when we reach 100,” Haliday said. “There will be no ‘away’ spectators admitted. This is consistent throughout the County.”
Games will be played within the region, with no out-of-County travel for teams.
There will be no postseason for soccer, but golf and cross country squads may have regional and state championship opportunities. There is a possibility there may be be a soccer playoff format within Aroostook County, Halliday said.
SAD 70 Superintendent Stephen Fitzpatrick said games will be scheduled so that if the boys team plays at home, the girls team will play an away game to help maintain the field and to ensure buses will be able to accommodate all team members.
“It will be easier to monitor and easier to facilitate those games,” Fitzpatrick said. “Some of our parents are also tasked with driving our students if they go to an away venue.”
Football drew considerable discussion at the RSU 29 board meeting. Football is considered a “higher risk” sport under MPA and state guidelines and will not be allowed this fall.
The Houlton football team will be allowed to practice, without shoulder pads, and can play 7-on-7 touch or flag intrasquad matches.
Houlton is the only MPA varsity team in Aroostook County, but there are two squads that compete in the Maine Independent Football League — the St. John Valley Mustangs based in Madawaska and Aroostook Huskies based in Presque Isle.
Houlton coach Jon Solomon does not agree with the state’s assessment that football is a higher risk than soccer.
“As a football coach it may look like I am coming after soccer, but that is not the case,” Solomon said. “As a parent, both of my kids played soccer growing up. I have been to plenty of soccer games over the last decade where I have seen pileups and there is a lot of close contact. We have never been given an answer [from the MPA] as to why football is a higher risk.”
Houlton has not ruled out the possibility of having a flag football scrimmage with either the Huskies or the Mustangs.