Division III sports in Maine took a big hit this summer when the North Atlantic Conference canceled the fall season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That isn’t stopping two of the league’s members from scheduling competition on a limited basis.
The University of Maine at Presque Isle and Thomas College in Waterville are planning to play a home-and-home series involving their fall sports teams next month.
The competitions will include the men’s and women’s soccer teams, the men’s and women’s cross country teams and the men’s golf squads with one match in Waterville and the other in Presque Isle.
Preliminary discussions for the instate competition also included Colby College of Waterville, a member of the New England Small College Athletic Conference, and Saint Joseph’s College in Standish, which competes in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference.
However, both eventually decided against it. Saint Joseph’s experienced an outbreak of the coronavirus on campus this month.
UMPI athletics director Dan Kane said he and Thomas athletic director Chris Parsons have had ongoing discussions about the possibility and are just awaiting approval from their respective schools to pull it off.
Kane is exploring options for his volleyball team, which would include an intrasquad Seniors Day game. Thomas does not sponsor volleyball.
Parsons is looking for spring dates for his field hockey and tennis teams, two sports not offered at Thomas.
The NAC has left the door open for the possibility of playing its fall sports season in the spring.
A golf match and cross country meet are tentatively scheduled to be held on Saturday in Presque Isle and the teams will switch the venue to Waterville the following weekend.
The soccer games would be played on Oct. 10 with the women’s game at UMPI and the men’s contest at Thomas. They would switch sites for the Oct. 17 games.
Kane explained that there are fewer athletes involved in cross country and golf and the teams would be at different sites so it made sense to hold them in the same city.
UMPI’s golf team plays at the Presque Isle Country Club and Thomas plays at Waterville Country Club in Oakland. Each school has a cross country course on its campus.
With more athletes on the soccer teams and with them playing on the same field, the safest thing to do was separate them.
“We want to keep the numbers down at each site,” Parsons said.
The schools have been adhering to the safety protocols and social distancing guidelines established by the NCAA. Phase Three began last Friday for UMPI and four days later for Thomas, meaning teams could scrimmage among themselves and play outside competition.
Parsons said the discrepancy in the start of phase three for the two schools is based on when they started school.
The schools have also been testing their student-athletes for the coronavirus and will continue to do so.
“We will test them 72 hours before we play. So we will test them on a Wednesday, play on Saturday, and test them again the following Wednesday,” Kane said.
Kane and Parsons said neither of their institutions has had a student test positive for the coronavirus.
The primary reason for UMPI seeking out games was to help improve the mental health of their student-athletes.
“There have been some alarming studies and surveys concerning high school and college students, especially on the athletic side, pertaining to the [negative impact] of not being able to exercise and be with their friends,” Kane said. “Athletes are very social.
“Maine seems to be one of the safest places in the country so, if we continue to follow the safety protocols, it seems like the right thing to do.”
Parsons agreed, saying his student-athletes need to be rewarded for adhering to the various protocols during conditioning and practice sessions by having actual games as part of their reward.
“And there’s no guarantee there will be any games in the spring. So we’re pretty excited [to be playing UMPI this fall],” Parsons said.
Kane added that it is especially important for the seniors that they have some semblance of a season if it is only a few games.
Kane and Parsons haven’t ironed out the situation involving spectators, since the state of Maine allows no more than 100 people at an outdoor sporting event. That number includes the players, coaches, referees, trainers and staff personnel.
“We will only allow people who are on our campus to attend. No visitors or parents. We always live-stream our games since a lot of our athletes are from far away,” Kane said.