The Bangor Rams celebrate winning the 2018 Class A baseball title. Spring athletes and fans alike should benefit from relaxed gathering limits that will allow more participants in high school athletics facilities this spring. Credit: Pete Warner / BDN

The state’s pending relaxation of mass-gathering guidelines may bode well for allowing fans at high school games and for opening up more normal competitions in some sports.

Gov. Janet Mills on Friday unveiled a plan that will change some of the state’s COVID-19 safety protocols in regard to gathering limits both indoors and outdoors.

Starting March 26, the limit for outdoor events will be increased to 75 percent of capacity instead of 100 persons, while the indoor limit will expand from 50 people to 50 percent of capacity. Those numbers are expected to be expanded to 100 percent and 75 percent, respectively, before Memorial Day.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that we can start to open things up and provide more opportunities for kids,” Maine Principals’ Association Interscholastic Executive Director Mike Burnham said.

For a spring sport like outdoor track, whose meets often have participation rates that would be challenged by the existing limit for outdoor gatherings, the new rules could lead to more competitors being involved.

The MPA has submitted recommended spring sports guidelines, drafted by the association’s individual sport committees and reviewed by the MPA Sports Medicine Committee, to the various state agencies it has consulted with throughout the pandemic.

MPA officials hope to discuss those recommendations and possible modifications to the existing guidelines with representatives of those groups in order to shore up plans for the 2021 spring sports season.

Those groups include the Governor’s Office, the state Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Economic and Community Development, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Maine School Boards Association and the Maine School Superintendents Association.

The MPA’s plan is for baseball and softball pitchers and catchers to begin conditioning workouts March 22, with full practices for all spring sports — baseball, softball, outdoor track and field, tennis and lacrosse — to start on March 29.

Several other issues must be resolved before high school sports could return to statewide competition for the first time since the 2019-2020 winter sports season.

They include travel restrictions that have been in place during the fall and winter seasons limiting high school teams to competition against opponents from the same county or adjacent counties, and transportation challenges involving both the number of buses needed while ensuring physical distancing and a shortage of bus drivers.

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...