In this Feb. 24, 2021, file photo, ripping down a rebound is Hodgdon's Caleb Nash (right) during a game against Fort Fairfield. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

HODGDON, Maine — Face coverings may be optional for students and staff in SAD 70, but the apparel will now be mandatory for indoor sports.

The SAD 70 school board approved a winter sports policy Monday evening that requires face coverings for all participants of indoor sports, which includes basketball players and coaches.

The measure also applies to any spectators attending a basketball game at the school.

The school board approved the new winter sports guidelines with a vote of 9-1. Matt Day was the lone member in opposition.

Katahdin is also implementing a mandatory mask policy for its winter sports season, according to RSU 89 Superintendent Marie Robinson.

The move comes as the district faced an increased likelihood that other school districts would not play Hodgdon this winter because of its optional mask policy. SAD 70 is one of just two school districts in northern Maine that has an optional mask policy — RSU 89 (Katahdin) being the other.

The district conducted a survey with area school districts to determine if they would compete against Hodgdon if SAD 70 did not require its players or fans to wear face coverings, according to Superintendent Stephen Fitzpatrick.

Of the eight schools that responded, only Katahdin Middle-High School said it would play Hodgdon under the optional mask policy.

“As I suspected, all of our competitors are adhering to the Aroostook County winter sports COVID guidelines, with the exception of Katahdin,” he said.

Several districts said they were willing to revisit that decision should the number of cases and community transmission decline in Aroostook County, he said.

The Maine Principals Association, which governs interscholastic sports, did not set a policy for how to conduct indoor competition this season. Instead, the decision has been left to individual school districts.

The Aroostook County Superintendent’s Association collaborated with school administrators and athletic directors to create a set of guidelines for the upcoming indoor winter sports season. All athletes, coaches, referees and spectators will be required to wear masks for indoor games while community spread is high (red) or substantial (orange), as determined by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year, no spectators were allowed to attend basketball games at any gym in Aroostook County, teams did not travel outside of The County and postseason games were countywide rather than statewide.

Fitzpatrick said that any spectator who does not adhere to the mask policy in the gym will be asked to leave the building.

In addition, spectators will not be allowed to consume food inside the gymnasium. Instead, concessions will be available in Hodgdon’s cafeteria, where tables will be set up to allow for social distancing. A large television will broadcast the game live, so people can snack without missing any of the action, Fitzpatrick said.

The district also conducted a survey of its student athletes to determine if required face coverings would change their intentions to participate. Of the 23 students who responded, 22 said they would still play sports if they were required to wear a mask.

Basketball players will not be required to wear a mask during practices, but coaches may ask them to in order to build up familiarity with wearing them while playing, Fitzpatrick said.

“I can assure you that there is an appreciation for student athletes,” Fitzpatrick said. “Our bottom line is, given current knowledge, the intent is to offer athletes an opportunity to play under the most safe conditions that exist.”