The seasons will be shorter but the Maine Principals’ Association took a major step Thursday toward having a fall high school sports season – including football – during the coronavirus pandemic.
The MPA set the maximum number of games for fall sports and updated its guidelines for continuing coach-guided conditioning workouts until the start of official practices on Sept. 8. The first date of competition is Sept. 18.
Football, which normally plays an eight-game regular season, will have seven weeks to complete a six-game schedule. Soccer, field hockey and volleyball will play a maximum of 10 games, with no minimum number of games. Those sports typically play a 14-game schedule.
Scheduling in cross country and golf have not been revised. Sport-specific guidelines, including plans for a postseason, will be forthcoming from the MPA’s various fall sports committees.
Scheduling is the domain of athletic directors, not the MPA.
“But their recommendation today is to move forward with regionalizing schedules and the reality is we all need to focus on that for the reduced travel,” said Dean Plante, the athletic director and football coach at Old Orchard Beach High.
“To a person I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to offer these kids something. I’m feeling as optimistic as I’ve felt during this whole process,” Plante said.
No interscholastic games have been played in Maine since the end of the winter sports season. The virus outbreak forced the closure of schools across the state for in-person learning in mid-March and the spring season was eventually canceled on April 9.
On Friday, the Maine Department of Education is scheduled to release its first color-coded map to be used as a guide for how schools should return to school, with updates to follow every two weeks. Each county will be designated red, yellow or green in terms of risk of the spread of the virus. While districts can make their own decision regarding how they will return to school, the guideline is expected to be as follows: Red districts should have fully remote learning and would not offer extra-curricular activities; yellow would be a hybrid online/in-person learning model; green would be fully in-person learning and a likely full-go for sports.
“I think what we’re really waiting on are the two checkpoints from the CDC and the governor, on Friday and then the other on (August) 14th, because if (schools) are in yellow there are some schools that won’t be playing,” said Marshwood Athletic Director Rich Buzzell. “We’ve heard from a couple of schools, that they’ve heard from their superintendents, if they’re in yellow, they won’t be playing.”
Buzzell said before schedules can be made, athletic directors need to know which schools intend to offer fall sports. Then, he said, they’ll need greater clarity from the MPA on what is considered a region.
“All sports will be offered through the MPA. Whether schools choose to take part or not is going to be the question,” Buzzell said. “We have to figure that out, then we have to figure out the regionality piece and that’s going to be more clear next week, I think. We’ve got time. We’re talking six weeks until the first real practice, so we have time to work that out.”
The MPA also outlined its summer guidelines for Phase 3 (Aug. 3-23) and Phase 4 (Aug. 24-Sept. 7). Both periods are considered “extended conditioning and acclimatization” periods.
Phase 3 extends the conditioning period currently in effect, with the use of both indoor and outdoor facilities for workouts for all interscholastic sports. Indoor groups need to continue to be 10 or fewer but outside gatherings can increase to up to 100 students. While no form of competition is allowed, including one-on-one drills, sport-specific, team-oriented drills like passing a soccer ball or football, or taking shots on a goalie, are allowed if social distancing is maintained. Activities like practicing rebounding in basketball, or set plays are not allowed.
Phase 4 will have essentially the same guidelines as Phase 3 but will be for fall sports only.
On Wednesday, York and Cumberland county superintendents announced they would extend their delay of at-school, in-person workouts until at least Aug. 24. As a group, the southern Maine superintendents have emphasized they do not want to risk a potential virus outbreak during athletic activities that could potentially jeopardize starting the school year on time.
Several other districts around the state also chose to hold off on coach-led practices during the month of July.
On Thursday, Brunswick High, a Cumberland County school that is a member of the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference, announced it would begin holding summer workouts on Monday. Brunswick’s nearest KVAC neighbors, Mt. Ararat in Topsham and Morse in Bath, have been holding conditioning practices since July 6.
In an email, Brunswick Schools Superintendent Phil Potenziano said, “Our neighboring schools have begun these activities, and I’m encouraged by the fact that those schools have been able to provide activities in a safe manner. We are working hard to balance a need for normalcy, activity, and social interaction for students with the risk of exposure to the illness and recognize that each district is trying to balance those demands while adhering to the Maine Principals Association’s guidelines for schools to start summer conditioning programs as well as using the CDC guidelines. Brunswick School Department has worked with our school physician, school nurse, athletic trainer, and have created what we believe are comprehensive athletic guidelines for our summer conditioning program.”
Also on Thursday, the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association (NHIAA) announced it was, like Maine, delaying its start of fall sports practices until Sept. 8. The NHIAA did not set a first date for competition but did reaffirm its intention to have a season for all fall sports, including football and girls’ volleyball.