Brewer High School boys soccer coach Ben Poland said he breathed a huge sigh of relief Thursday when he learned there would be a soccer season, albeit without playoffs.
The COVID-19 pandemic left fall sports in limbo, but the Maine Principals’ Association, after working with a number of state agencies and Gov. Janet Mills’ office, announced a return-to-play plan that gave the green light to soccer, cross country, field hockey and golf but moved football and volleyball to 2021.
The schedules will be reduced to a maximum of 10 games and regionalized to limit travel and exposure.
“We have all been anxiously awaiting today and what the outcome was going to be,” Poland said. “We have a really tight group of players that I have been involved with since seventh grade and for [the seniors] to have an opportunity to play this fall means a lot to me.”
He said the Witches will work hard and play any schedule athletic administrator Dave Utterback puts in front of them.
Emily St. Cyr, a senior striker-winger for defending Class D North champion Penobscot Valley of Howland, was excited to hear the news.
“I have been playing soccer since I could walk with these girls and we always dreamed about having a senior year and giving roses to our moms on Seniors Night,” St. Cyr said. “To go from thinking we weren’t going to have one to having a season feels real good.”
Penobscot Valley High School head coach Ryan Reed also is pleased, but admitted not having an opportunity to compete for another state championship berth is disappointing.
“Our girls are competitive every year and I think we were going to have another real strong year. But after not being able to have a softball season last spring, we will take anything we can get,” Reed said.
St. Cyr said after missing out on the softball playoffs, the team will be thankful to have the chance to play at all.
Tom Bertrand, the head football coach at perennial title contender Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield, admitted being irritated by how long for all concerned to reach a decision on the season.
“It’s hard to understand how other states are able to [play football] safely and we aren’t. It’s hard to explain it to our kids,” he said.
Maine is one of 18 states, along with the District of Columbia, that isn’t playing football this fall. All of those states, except Connecticut and Vermont, are moving it to the second semester.
Vermont is playing seven-player touch football this fall and Connecticut is considering a lower-risk alternative.
Bertrand’s concern is that the MPA and its committees do everything they can to ensure there is a football season in the spring — as long as it can be done safely.
“Our seniors deserve it,” Bertrand said.
Utterback would like to see the MPA develop a plan for the second semester that would space out the seasons so student-athletes who play multiple sports wouldn’t have a conflict of sports during the same time period.
“I hope the kids won’t have to choose between one or the other,” said Dave Morris, who could find himself in an awkward situation since he is both the baseball and football head coach at Bangor High.
If significant medical advancements are made that greatly reduce the number of coronavirus cases and deaths, or a vaccine is developed, it is conceivable there would be a season for volleyball, which is played indoors.
However, finding football fields in good enough condition to play in the spring, especially in eastern and northern Maine where there are few artificial turf fields, likely would be problematic.
Maine’s guidelines would allow for seven-player touch football in the fall, something Old Town football coach Lance Cowan said would keep the players active and involved in the sport in the short term.
Longtime Bucksport High football coach Joel Sankey said he understands that the MPA and the state are trying to protect the student-athletes and all involved. He also knows how much the athletes want to play.
“It is a major concern just getting kids back in school and making sure school is safe for them,” Sankey said. “So I can see why sports has been on the back burner.”
Orono athletic administrator Mike Archer said the school is already organizing a 7-on-7 flag football activity for his football players.