There is uncertainty and unpredictability as everyone continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
But there were a lot of happy high school athletes across the state Monday when winter sports teams finally began full practice sessions.
Athletes had been limited by the Maine Principals’ Association and state agencies to conditioning and skill development drills after the start of the season was pushed back from Dec. 14 to Jan. 11 due to the surge in coronavirus cases.
Only schools located in counties designated as “green” by the Maine Department of Education are allowed to move into this phase.
“It was good to finally be back with everybody,” said junior Jake Hirsch, the No. 1 goaltender for the Bangor High School hockey team. “To get to the starting point and knowing something is ahead is a good achievement.”
He said practicing makes things feel normal again.
However, the principals association previously determined play in basketball and hockey will be limited to 12 regular-season games and schools must play opponents within their geographic area. They may hold playoffs, but no tournaments will be held and no champions will be crowned.
Hermon High School junior Charlotte Caron said the first basketball practice was good.
“We had just been doing individual workouts and conditioning, so it was very interesting to see all of our girls finally working together today,” she said.
Coaches, athletes and other team personnel must wear face coverings and adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Athletes have adapted to wearing a face covering through the individual workouts and, in some cases, during summer play or the fall season.
“We struggled with it at the beginning, but like coach [Chris] Cameron said, we have to consider it part of our uniform. It’s like if you don’t have your jersey tucked in, you’re going to get called out for it,” Caron said.
Hampden Academy girls basketball coach Nick Winchester said the experience has provided life lessons for the athletes.
“You have to learn to deal with adversity and what life throws at you. You have to continue moving forward. During our small group sessions, we talked to the kids about being flexible and being patient,” Winchester said.
A Bangor High School girls basketball team player dribbles during a practice Tuesday. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN
He stressed that everyone needs to remain positive and adjust as necessary.
“It was great to see the kids in the gym doing what they love to do,” Hermon boys basketball coach Mark Reed said.
Coaches and players readily acknowledge that everything could change depending on the spread of COVID-19.
“The kids are carefully optimistic that we will have a season,” Reed said. “They want it so badly. But you have to take advantage of every day you have because you don’t know how many [practices and games] you will be able to get in. It is a very strange time.”
Cameron said the Hermon girls have worked hard throughout because nobody knows what tomorrow will bring.
“There is so much uncertainty,” he said.
Cameron said they are taking all the necessary precautions as outlined by the state to improve their chances of completing the season.
“They need this for their mental well-being. It would be very difficult to go through a Maine winter without basketball,” he said.
Winchester is especially happy for his seniors and those statewide.
“I’m really hoping we can put together a season for these kids that is meaningful,” he said.
“To be able to have a season in their last year of school is super important.”
Dexter High School girls basketball coach Jody Grant lamented about his team not having a chance to win a state championship. His daughter Peyton is a senior this season.
“That was something they talked about beginning back in fifth or sixth grade,” he said of his program’s perennial goal.
Coaches and players are looking forward to playing teams in their regions they wouldn’t normally play.
Neighbors Hampden Academy (Class A) and Hermon (Class B) will play each other in basketball.
“We won’t have to put as many miles on the bus,” said coach Quinn Paradis, whose Bangor High hockey team usually plays several downstate programs such as Lewiston, Falmouth and Cheverus of Portland.
Teams can begin playing games as soon as Jan. 11, but many schools will push that date back to give their teams more time to get in shape and adapt to the face coverings.