In this Nov. 22, 2019, file photo, Maine Central Institute quarterback Ryan Friend (left) avoids being sacked by Leaitt's Jack Boutaugh during the Class C football state championship game at Alfond Stadium in Orono. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Maine athletic administrators exhibited considerable frustration on Tuesday after they learned the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education has recommended the Maine Principals’ Association revisit its return-to-play policy and delay the starting date for fall sports.

A letter from Health Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew and Education Commissioner Pender Makin to the association’s interscholastic executive director, Mike Burnham, said several elements in the MPA plan approved by the organization last week did not line up with Maine’s policies for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s very frustrating,” Hampden Academy athletic administrator Fred Lower said.

“The guidelines put forth by the MPA were very clear. Now nothing is really clear. And it should be,” he added.

The commissioners didn’t suggest the fall sports season should be canceled but requested that further modifications be made by the association.

Brewer athletic administrator Dave Utterback said the state agencies appear to have done an about-face in their approach to working with the association.

“Two weeks ago, they said they were going to follow the recommendations of the MPA. Then they send out a four-page letter today saying the MPA didn’t do it the way they wanted them to do it,” Utterback said. “What did they want the MPA to do?”

The start of the fall sports season had already been pushed back to Sept. 8, with the first countable games in all sports except football being held no earlier than Sept. 18. Football would begin Sept. 25.

Orono athletic administrator Mike Archer wants someone to take charge and get the student-athletes off the emotional rollercoaster they have been stuck on.

“If someone doesn’t want us to play, make the decision!” Archer said. “The kids need to know. They’ve been dangled along long enough.”

Lower stressed that the association has taken seriously the responsibility of trying to provide athletics opportunities for Maine students.

“The MPA did everything it could to make it safe,” Lower said. “They looked at data, talked to other states about what they were doing. I really feel for our student-athletes.”

Archer said he feels as though he has failed his student-athletes because he can’t answer their questions about what the fall season might entail. And the clock is already ticking.

“I could care less if we have state championship games. The kids just want to play and get in a season. That’s as big a win as anything,” Archer said.

Utterback said Tuesday’s development came as no surprise to him.

“This has been going on since mid-March,” Utterback said. “It was a matter of when was the state going to assert its authority in this.”

In New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu and his administration in July gave the go-ahead to play high school sports. Thus far, 41 school districts have voted to play football.

“The governors in New Hampshire and Vermont got right out in front of this and decided what their states were going to do,” Utterback said.

The athletic directors said they are aware guidelines for school academic programs and other non-sports activities have already been implemented and that some might compare those guidelines to the ones used in various sports, especially the high-risk sports like football.

They know some districts are waiting to see how the transition back to school goes before making an assessment on sports.

The athletic directors stressed that their primary concern is the safety of the student-athletes, the coaches and their respective communities. They just want clarity on what’s going to happen.

“If this is going to be the standard of operations week after week after week, what will we have left [for a season]?” Archer asked.