A month ago, Jacob Reed thought experiencing his first practice with the Foxcroft Academy indoor track team this winter was no better than a 50-50 possibility.
His junior season was uncertain throughout the fall because Maine’s college venues that host meets aren’t available during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reed admittedly hadn’t done a ton of conditioning since the soccer season ended in October.
“It was hard to go to the gym because you don’t know [about COVID-19],” said Reed, a high jumper and long jumper from Dover-Foxcroft. “You don’t want to catch anything or expose anyone.”
But there was reason for Reed’s competitive enthusiasm to be flowing Monday after organizers of the Penobscot Valley Conference-Eastern Maine Indoor Track League announced plans to hold some competitions.
The league has unveiled a unique way to salvage approximately half of the events in a typical meet by hosting them in different locations over multiple days.
Plans are in the works to hold events each Thursday, Friday and Saturday beginning in late January. Brewer High School athletic administrator Dave Utterback developed the plan with support from his EMITL co-chair from the Penobscot Valley Conference, Orono athletic administrator Mike Archer.
“We knew indoor track was going to be difficult because we knew informally that the University of Maine was not going to be open to rental and every league in the state relies on a college field house,” said Utterback, who with Archer introduced the plan last week to league coaches.
“When we got the official word in early November that in the foreseeable future their facilities were not going to be available for rent, we started brainstorming about where we could take some of these events.”
The resulting plan involves a five-week schedule beginning Thursday, Jan. 28.
The shot put will be contested each Thursday at Brewer’s Center Street gymnasium, which features a rubberized floor, while the high jump will follow on Fridays using a rotation of area high schools.
Two sessions will follow each Saturday, with distance running in the morning at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor followed by the long jump and triple jump in the afternoon at the Old Town-Orono YMCA.
Individual league championship competition in each event is set for Feb. 25, 26 and 27, respectively.
“It’s not exactly what I thought would happen but it’s a lot more creative than anything I think I could have come up with,” Reed said. “It’s a good idea.”
Organizers are awaiting the receipt of rosters this week from the 15 eastern Maine schools in line to participate. The number of participants in each event from each school will be used to determine how to schedule the competitions while keeping attendance at any given time within the state-mandated COVID-19 maximum for indoor events of 50 people.
Among scheduling options for the shot put, for example, is to rotate teams into the gym one at a time with boys and girls completing their throws and then leaving the gym as the next team enters.
Two local high school gyms likely would be required to conduct the weekly high jump, while the number of Saturday divisions at each location would be determined in part by how long each session takes.
Organizers expect the 800 meters and 1,500 meters to be the featured distance races. Depending on how long it takes to stage events races for boys and girls and how the runners adapt to wearing facemasks during competition, the 2-mile might be added.
Another option is to try the New England-championship distances of 600 and 1,000 meters, shorter distances that might be more attractive to sprinters.
Only one coach per team will be allowed in a competition venue to enable as many student-athletes as possible to participate and stay under the 50-person limit.
Participants are expected to arrive at the gym ready to compete, wear facemasks at all times and bring their own water bottles. Social distancing will be observed, disinfecting anything used in the gym whenever possible will be encouraged, and each school will be responsible for its members’ pre-meet screening.
“I still think there are a few questions to answer,” Archer said. “There are some reservations out there about how many schools would be coming to another school, just from the standpoint of bringing students from three, four or five different schools into one building and does that increase the [COVID-19] risk?”
Reed has his own questions to resolve before making his winter high jumping debut on Jan. 29.
One is how wearing a mask during competition will feel, something he didn’t have to deal with during soccer season when it wasn’t mandated while playing in a match.
Another involves his choice of footwear.
“Especially with jumping off of a gym floor into a foam pit rather than a sand pit, it’s going to be a little different without spikes,” Reed said of the long jump. “I’ll probably just use sneakers. You might not get the same mark as you usually do, but I think it will all be good.”