The 2021 Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic football game has not yet been formally canceled, but any version of the event will look quite different from previous editions.
This year’s game features top players from the previous year’s senior class, and is scheduled for July 10 at Thornton Academy in Saco.
But tackle football remains a higher-risk sport, according to the state’s community sports guidelines established last year in conjunction with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in Maine.
That resulted in the cancellation of the 2020 Lobster Bowl, the annual all-star game for outgoing high school seniors, and the event cannot not be played in its original form until those guidelines are relaxed.
Lobster Bowl officials are developing a final plan on how they will honor this year’s senior participants.
Another challenge will be raising funds for the Shriners’ Hospitals for Children in Boston and Springfield, Massachusetts, according to B.J. Robbins, athletic director of the Classic and an assistant football coach at Oak Hill High School in Wales.
Players and cheerleaders selected to participate in the game typically raise more than $100,000 annually. Last year, they brought in more than $75,000, despite the fact the game was not played.
Robbins said an announcement on the Shriners’ plans for this year is expected soon.
One possible scenario is for the game to be replaced by multiple events, such as a 7-on-7 tournament for skill-position players and a big-man competition for linemen. There may be one set of events held in central Maine and a second series conducted in southern Maine to reduce travel for the participants.
“With the timeline the way it is, coupled with the Shriners not wanting to do anything that would jeopardize the fall [football season, it] has really forced their hand to do something different,” said Dan O’Connell, head football coach at John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor.
O’Connell is a past Lobster Bowl coach, and sits with Robbins on the executive board of the Maine Football Coaches Association.
“We’re all waiting and hoping and trying to remain positive that those guidelines will change like everything else has so we can play [high school] football in the fall,” he said, “but for the Lobster Bowl the timeline is not the fall, it’s July.”
Also diminishing the chances for a traditional game this year is the inability to hold its weeklong pregame training camp at a single site. The camp has been held over the years at several locations. Most recently it was held at Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft.
“This year would be better than ever to have that kind of bubble,” O’Connell said. “This would be the year we could test everybody when they came in and we could keep them separate from everybody else. But unfortunately there aren’t places to do that because the liabilities are too high, the risk is too great, and there are people on those campuses who aren’t part of the football program and how would you be affecting them?”
“There are just so many variables right now to host that type of event.”