In this February 2020 file photo, Hampden Academy team members celebrate with the gold ball after beating York 65-56 in the Class A state championship basketball game at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

For the first time since World War II, no high school basketball state champions will be crowned this winter in Maine.

The elimination of the regional tournaments and state championship games is among numerous changes for high school sports under the latest guidelines determined by the Maine Principals’ Association.

The last time a state championship game was not played in boys basketball was 1943, when Portland on the West but the East region did not hold a tournament.

The 2020-21 winter season, if it is eventually played during the growing COVID-19 pandemic, will consist of regionalized play. It also will include numerous procedural changes in basketball and other sports to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Athletes will have to wear masks for all sports except wrestling and swimming, as will coaches and game officials. No fans will be allowed at any indoor competitions.

The basketball and ice hockey regular seasons have been reduced from 18 games to 12. Playoff games may be allowed within leagues or in specific geographic areas.

The jump ball to open games and to start overtime will be replaced by a coin flip, which will establish the alternating possession.

For all indoor sports, fans will not be allowed and athletes can’t physically congratulate each other (i.e. high-fives, fist bumps).

All timeouts will be 60 seconds to allow the athletes a chance to lower their masks, catch their breath and get a drink. In basketball, game balls will be sanitized during timeouts and between quarters and teams must remain in their bench areas during halftime.

Winter sports teams can begin individualized practices on Dec. 7, team practices on Dec. 14 and are scheduled to begin playing games against regional competition on Jan. 11, 2021.

MPA assistant executive director Mike Bisson said its primary objective was to get the winter season started. Any possible postseason plans will be discussed later, but the state’s COVID-19 pandemic recommendations make state title games impossible.

Some regions, such as Aroostook County, were able to hold regional playoff games in soccer this fall.

Orono High School basketball coach John Donato, a Maine Basketball Hall of Famer, said he and his players are grateful that plans are being made for the season.

“It’s not an ideal situation but at least we’ll be able to play,” he said.

Donato admitted that he was concerned that the recent spike in COVID-19 cases would cancel the season and he is still worried about it.

Cheerleading is another sport that will be significantly impacted by the MPA winter sports rules.

Pyramids, key components of a routine that involve most team members, can make or break a squad’s chances of winning a championship. They won’t be allowed this season.

Cheerleaders, who will wear face coverings, will be prohibited from any vocal performances during their routines.

Coach Kristie Reed, who has led Hermon High to nine state Class B championships since taking the job in 2008, said the athletes will gladly adapt to the guidelines if it means having a season.

“These kids haven’t done much since the end of last season. They really need this [season]. It’s really important to them,” Reed said.

The practice required for pyramids is extensive and requires all cheerleaders to be present, according to Reed. One positive COVID-19 case could mean an entire team would have to quarantine for 14 days.

She said adapting to wearing a mask will be a huge adjustment.

State championship competitions are eventually expected to be held, but will be done virtually, Reed said. Regional meets are not on the schedule.

Teams will perform their routines in their own facilities on a specific day leading up to the state championship date, at which time all will be broadcast via the internet, Reed said.

Among other sport-specific guidelines, hockey teams must practice social distancing on the bench, in the penalty box and when conferring with the referees.

Indoor track athletes are expected to wear gloves and bring their own batons for relays. For events longer than 800 yards, groupings will include either only runners from the same school, or competitors will be restricted to pre-established lane assignments.

Swimmers will report to their events when their name is called and won’t stand behind their blocks waiting to compete. They must also wear masks when not in the pool.

Finish lines will be widened for Alpine and Nordic skiers and for cross country skiers there won’t be mass starts or wave starts in excess of five competitors.

Spectators will be allowed for skiing events but the number must conform to MPA and state protocols for mass gatherings.