High school sports will be played in Maine this fall. At least some of them.
The Maine Principals’ Association is expected to announce on Thursday that, with the approval of the appropriate state agencies and state superintendents, it is giving individual school districts the go-ahead to field interscholastic sports teams in soccer, field hockey, cross country and golf.
The MPA has not released its plans, but several school sources said Wednesday they expect football and volleyball to be moved to the spring.
Mike Burnham, the interscholastic executive director of the MPA, said late Wednesday afternoon that a meeting took place between the MPA, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, the Maine School Superintendents Association, the Maine School Boards Association, the Department of Education and Gov. Janet Mills’ office.
“A consensus of guidelines has been reached with the exception of a few minor edits,” Burnham said.
“The finished documents will be finalized and shared with MPA member schools at some point [Thursday].”
Under Phase 2 of the Department of Economic and Community Development’s COVID-19 guidance for community sports activities, last updated on Sept. 1, neither football nor volleyball could be played at present. Football is considered a high-risk sport and volleyball is a moderate-risk activity.
One of the key issues with those sports would be the ability to maintain health insurance for student-athletes allowed to play by school districts since the state is under a state of emergency and has strict guidelines. Districts fear possible litigation if a student-athlete contracts the coronavirus.
If the timetable has not changed, tryouts and practices could start on Sept. 15 and the first countable games could be played on Sept. 25.
Because of the delays to the start of the preseason, soccer, field hockey, cross country and golf will have shortened schedules and will feature regionalized competition to avoid extensive travel.
The MPA is set to reveal its return-to-play plan nine days after the commissioners of DHHS and DOE sent a four-page letter that directed the MPA to alter its return-to-play plans to conform with COVID-19 protocols put in place by state agencies.
In response to those concerns, the MPA on Sept. 2 agreed to push the fall sports season back another week.
DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambew and DOE Commissioner Pender Makin last week cited several issues with the initial MPA proposal. They included holding indoor competition in volleyball and allowing statewide competition in moderate-risk sports such as soccer and field hockey.
The commissioners also questioned MPA recommendations that did not appear to provide for proper social distancing for spectators at events and rules for face coverings for non-competitors. They also pointed to the lack of a formal connection between the return-to-play recommendations and individual school district plans for the return of students to classes.
Maine would become the 18th state, along with the District of Columbia, to cancel its fall football season. Most of those states are planning to move football to the spring but Connecticut has no plans to offer football next semester and Vermont is playing 7-on-7, one-hand-touch football in the fall with no spring plans, either.
According to Dr. Karissa Niehoff, the executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference is exploring lower-risk options for football players this fall.
Old Town football coach Lance Cowan said he would be disappointed if there wasn’t a fall season but said having a spring season would reduce some of the disappointment.
“I’d rather have it in spring than not have it at all. The seniors have really been looking forward to the season,” Cowan said. “Football means a lot to them. They have spent three years making themselves a better athlete and football player and not having it their senior year would be devastating.”
Cowan’s primary concern about playing spring football is the turnaround time before the fall season begins.
“What kind of rest period are they going to have?” Cowan posed. “That’s something they’re going to have to figure out.”