Here’s something a lot of student-athletes might not have expected to read this year — the fall high school sports season is about to begin.
Interscholastic golf — all 2 1/2 weeks of it — teed off this week, with a rapid-fire regular season leading to conference qualifying meets on Oct. 6 and state team and individual championships scheduled for Oct. 9 in Class A and Oct. 10 for Classes B and C at Natanis Golf Course in Vassalboro.
Golf and cross country were the only fall sports to be played in Maine to earn a lower-risk designation from Maine’s community sports guidelines, easing the path for them to gain approval for interscholastic competition.
“Golf and cross country were always ahead of everything else as far as the community guidelines,” said Bill McCarthy, athletic administrator at Mattanawcook Academy in Lincoln and a member of the Maine Principals’ Association golf committee.
Golf’s team and individual state championships were contested on separate Saturdays in the pre-COVID-19 era. Combining those events while separating the Class A meet from Classes B and C were two of a variety of changes made to address crowd size during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
No spectators will be allowed at either the qualifying meets or state championships, though electronic scoring will enable spectators to follow the events online.
Other rules largely follow those the Maine State Golf Association used while successfully running its junior tournaments throughout the summer — MSGA executive director Brian Bickford is a liaison to the MPA golf committee.
Those include social distancing, the use of face coverings by coaches and staff, no handshakes or fist bumps among golfers, leaving the flagstick in the cup, no bunker rakes or ball washers on the course, and no exchange of scorecards — verbal agreements will suffice.
“To be fair, all of the really good golfers in the state have been playing since the summer, so it’s a different beast in that way,” said Jim Leonard, athletic administrator at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield and MPA golf committee member.
Regular-season golf matches around the state, like for other fall sports, generally will be arranged this year through geographic pods.
The 27 Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference schools are divided into nine three-team pods for scheduling purposes. Each pod will hold six regular-season matches, two at each member school’s home course, leading to the KVAC championships at Natanis on Oct. 6.
“Basically you’re in a three-team bubble for the entirety of the regular season which, by the way, ends in two weeks,” said Leonard, whose MCI team is in a pod with neighboring Nokomis of Newport and Mount View of Thorndike.
The 35-member Penobscot Valley Conference similarly has relied on geographic pods to create its schedules for fall sports, including golf.
The PVC also will break out its conference meets, with Class B at Hermon Meadow Golf Course and Class C at JaTo Highlands Golf Course in Lincoln. Two other Class B schools, Caribou and Presque Isle, will seek to qualify separately in Aroostook County rather than make the trip south.
“It’s a way to help keep the numbers under 100, and it’s a little less travel,” McCarthy said.
The number of players from each school allowed to participate in the team championships has been decreased from six to five this year, with the top four gross scores still counting toward each team’s total.
Defending team champions are Mt. Ararat of Topsham in Class A, York in Class B and Kents Hill in Class C, with reigning boys individual champions Caleb Manuel of Mt. Ararat, Tyler Rivers of York and Mitchell Tarrio of Kents Hill.
Ruby Haylock and Morgan Dutil, both of Leavitt in Turner Center, are the defending girls co-champions.