The Bangor High School boys and girls cross country teams were poised to win their first state Class A state championships.
They won the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference meets after finishing first in the annual Maine Cross Country Festival of Champions.
Two days before the state meets, the spread of the coronavirus led the state to require athletes to wear face coverings and the Maine Principals’ Association canceled the meets.
Bangor coach Roger Huber said the athletes were disappointed not to have the opportunity to run for a state championship, but all were thankful to have a season at all.
“It’s disappointing when you have worked toward winning a state championship for four years and then you don’t get the opportunity to run,” Huber said. “But when the sting subsides and you all come to grips with it, we got in more than most.”
Huber said forcing the runners to wear a mask during the meets would not have gone well. He saw how athletes struggled with that dynamic at the Penobscot Valley Conference JV championship.
Brewer athletic administrator Dave Utterback was part of the medical sweep team that followed the last runner and tended to those who were having difficulty. He said many were having trouble breathing with the masks on.
Huber said Bangor’s overall effort and improvement have helped set the bar high for future teams.
Despite the recent surge in cases statewide, there were no known outbreaks this fall related to high school sports.
There was one positive COVID-19 case involving a member of the boys soccer team at Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro. That was one of five cases related to kids playing basketball at the Midcoast Athletic Center in Warren, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Also in October, Belfast Area High School suspended all sports and extracurricular activities for a week, while Searsport District High School and Mount View High in Thorndike postponed outside competition for a week. Those moves came in the wake of the outbreak at the Brooks Pentecostal Church and its school, Lighthouse Christian Academy.
Hermon High School girls soccer coach M.J. Ball led the 2019 Class B East champion Hawks to a 10-0 season. That included a 2-0 win over perennial Class A contender Bangor in the first-ever meeting between the two.
“We were quite happy to get the 10 games in,” Ball said. “And to beat Bangor in what we considered our championship game was a nice way to cap the season.”
Soccer and field hockey teams were limited to 10 games instead of the usual 14. They played regionalized schedules, often facing nearby schools they wouldn’t normally play.
There were no MPA playoffs, but Aroostook County schools altered their schedules to include eight regular-season games plus two playoff contests.
“I wish they could have figured out a way to have playoffs,” Ball said of Bangor-area soccer programs.
Ball said Hermon came out of the fall injury free and had high-scoring striker Sydney Gallop move into second place on the school’s career scoring list. Her 18 goals left her with 78, placing the junior 27 behind record holder Alex Allain.
Football was pushed back to the spring, so the teams played a 7-on-7 touch or flag format with all passing and no tackling or blocking.
“This gave the kids a chance to play, it kept them involved and they got some exercise,” Bucksport coach Joel Sankey said.
He said the Golden Bucks, who went 7-1, gained some valuable experience for their quarterbacks and receivers to complement what would have been a run-heavy squad with a talented stable of running backs.
Sankey enjoyed the fact that interior linemen were able to play two quarters of every game and take part in the throwing and catching aspects.
Bucksport had the chance to host Class A Bangor, a team it usually doesn’t play.
“We did well. It was a real good football game,” Sankey said.
Another positive of the 7-on-7 format was that everybody got to play, he said.
Utterback said many positives came out of the fall season, but none more important than the athletes having a chance to compete after lingering doubts about the season.
“There was a lot of great collaboration between the athletic directors and the leagues. Games were played closer to home and we embraced livestreaming, which should serve us well in the future,” he said.
Games allowed few or no fans, but family, friends and fans were able to see the action via the streams.
Utterback said among the lessons learned in terms of how to approach the winter season is leaving room at the end of the schedule for playoffs as County schools did.
“It was different because when you don’t have something to play for, the kids don’t play with the same sense of urgency,” Utterback said of the playoffs.
Presque Isle AD Mark White thinks the MPA will take allowing postseason games into consideration after they figure out the nuts and bolts of the winter season, if one is held.
White said parents, coaches and athletes did a wonderful job complying with the various safety protocols. He also praised the cooperation between County athletic administrators in having playoffs.
“[It] gave the kids something to play for,” said White, adding that the efforts will aid in formulating a plan for the winter.
Calais athletic director Randy Morrisson said his soccer teams lost two games due to COVID-19 cases at the elementary school, but otherwise went well.