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There was no uniformity when it came to stipends paid to sports coaches by Maine high schools this spring.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to implement remote learning and led to the cancellation of the baseball, softball, tennis, lacrosse and outdoor track seasons. No official practices were held.
Coaches in some districts received their full stipends, others were paid part of their promised extra pay and others didn’t get a cent.
Athletic administrators and coaches said stipends for high school head coaches in Maine range from $2,000 to $7,000 during the spring season.
The decision about whether coaches were paid for a season that didn’t happen was made by superintendents and school administrators amid concerns about the financial implications heading into a period of uncertainty caused by COVID-19.
Brewer, Orono, Stearns of Millinocket and Jonesport-Beals were among the high schools that gave their spring sports coaches their full stipends. Old Town paid up to 25 percent of the contracted amount. Houlton, Presque Isle, Fort Kent, Madawaska, Wisdom of St. Agatha and Foxcroft Academy were some of the schools that didn’t pay anything.
Bangor paid stipends to the coaches who worked in the Bangor school system. That meant baseball coach David Morris, who teaches in Brewer, didn’t receive any money.
“[Not getting paid] didn’t turn my world upside down,” Morris said, expressing his pleasure that Brewer coaches and the in-system Bangor coaches were paid 100 percent.
“I’ve been coaching a long time. Money is not the reason I do it,” said Morris, who is also Bangor’s head football coach and could be out another stipend this fall if schools are not reopened and the season isn’t played.
Jenn Plourde, in her ninth year as the head softball coach at Old Town, said it was a no-win dynamic for school departments. She put her own situation into perspective.
“At least I got something. I feel bad for those people who didn’t get paid and weren’t even able to have a conversation about it,” Plourde said of the 25 percent she received. “I had multiple conversations with [Old Town athletic director Jeremy Bousquet].”
Superintendents had a tough decision, because taxpayers likely were conflicted about whether coaches should be paid for a season that did not happen, Plourde said.
Outgoing Houlton athletic director Bruce Nason said he sympathizes with his spring sports coaches.
“I feel bad that we didn’t have a season and that we didn’t pay them,” Nason said.
Plourde pointed out that some of the coaches count on the promised money and didn’t receive it because of something (COVID-19) over which they had no control.
Plourde and many other coaches are taking steps to improve themselves during the offseason, not just through their efforts once the players report and the season begins, she said.
“I’m constantly watching and studying softball. I follow different clinics. I educate myself,” said Plourde, who has guided the Coyotes to three Class B state championships. “It’s really important, as coaches, to put a lot of time and effort into it. You see it in the outcome.”
Orono athletic director Mike Archer said he and the school department felt their coaches deserved full pay.
“First and foremost, they had already started to set things up for the season. They had preseason meetings with the athletes. They were ready to go,” Archer said.
“They were doing the job they were getting paid to do and we felt that needed to be recognized,” he added.
Brewer AD Dave Utterback agreed, saying their spring sports coaches had already had direct contact with their players, held meetings with them and had worked with him on inventory requests and other things.
“And they were in a holding pattern [waiting to see if there would be a season],” he said.
In March, schools closed forcing students to begin remote learning, and the Maine Principals’ Association on April 9 announced there wouldn’t be any spring sports.
“They were hired by the superintendent and school committee and we were living up to the school department’s end of that agreement,” Utterback said.
Unlike many other districts that pay their coaches a stipend at the end of the season, Brewer pays its spring head coaches $498 per week.
“And we’re in the middle of the pack to the low end [in terms of the amounts],” Utterback said.
School Administrative District 27 hadn’t issued contracts to their spring sports coaches when schools closed and that a decision was made by Fort Kent, Wisdom of St. Agatha and Madawaska not to pay coaches, Fort Kent athletic director Eric Werntgen said.
“We go year by year with our contracts and they hadn’t gone out yet,” he said.
Deciding whether to pay the stipends was a difficult call, Foxcroft Academy athletic director Tim Smith said.
“It’s not an easy thing to figure out. Unfortunately, the season didn’t even get started,” he said.
With the precedents having been set, school administrators now must wait to see whether any high school sports will be played in the fall.