In this January 2020 file photo, the Hermon High School cheering team is shown competing at the Class B North regional championship. Maine cheerleaders are preparing to compete with virtual state meet performances on March 18. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Dates for a virtual state cheering championship meet have been announced. It has been delayed to mid- and late March designed in part to accommodate teams from all 16 counties.

The Maine Principals’ Association cheering committee recently revised dates for the competition, with team cheering performance videos now to be submitted on March 18 and judged two days later.

Champions in each class will be announced during a live streaming of the performances tentatively scheduled to air on the NFHS Network on Saturday, March 27.

The updated time frame, which extends the deadline for submissions by three weeks, will allow more preparation time for teams that have been unable to practice due to COVID-19 issues.

“We knew there were a number of schools that were not able to have gotten started, and if those schools were given the opportunity they were going to need enough time to train to safely do their routines,” said Mike Burnham, the MPA’s interscholastic executive director.

They include schools in Androscoggin, Cumberland, Oxford and York counties whose athletic programs have been sidelined. Those southern Maine counties are graded “yellow” by a state color coding system designed to provide school systems guidance about whether to have students in the classroom during the pandemic.

Last week the MPA, in conjunction with several state agencies, agreed that the color coding system should no longer apply to school-based activities such as interscholastic sports. That means high school teams in yellow counties may begin practicing and eventually playing interscholastic contests against teams in the same or adjacent counties.

Those decisions are being left to each school district.

“Obviously it’s great to have those dates in place,” said Hermon cheering coach Kristie Reed, a liaison to the MPA’s cheering committee. “It’s great that teams will still have the ability to practice if we go yellow because that’s been the fear. Every Friday you wait until that comes out and everybody’s thinking, ‘Are we on or are we not?’”

Since the state championship will be held virtually this year, all teams will be able to participate provided they receive approval from local school officials.

“For the cheering world, the MPA getting it so those yellow counties could practice means a go-ahead for the rest of our season because it’s all virtual,” Reed said. “As long as we can practice, we can have our state competition.”

For the state championship meet, each school’s athletic administrator will be emailed a template with a code word to be incorporated into the team’s competition video to verify that it was taped on the designated day.

“Then the athletic director, the coach and senior captains will have to sign off that this was a one-and-done routine,” Reed said. “The intention is that you do it once.”

Three elements of a typical performance will not be allowed due to COVID-19 guidelines, including vocal performance, pyramids and the five-point showmanship category.

That will leave the emphasis of each routine on other factors such as dance, tumbling and jumps.

“I don’t think it changes too, too much except that routines are going to be shorter,” Reed said.

Hermon, the reigning Class B state champion, and some other teams in green counties have been able to work out since beginning MPA-sanctioned “skills and drills” sessions in early December.

Hermon met a couple of times a week when the school was green in December, leading up to the start of formal practices on Jan. 4.

“My team was scared to death that we weren’t going to get even what we’ve had, so just to have what we’ve had brings some appreciation,” Reed said.

Most conferences hope to stage virtual championship meets, likely two weeks before states.

The Midcoast Athletics Center in Warren also plans to host a virtual competition in late February. The different elements of each routine will be judged separately to support the varying levels of practice participating teams from around the state will have had to that point.

“I do think they will have a form for your whole routine, but it’s all elective based on what you have ready at that point,” Reed said of the event.

The cheering season was on course to proceed even if the color coding dynamic hadn’t been revised, but Reed anticipates some schools and individuals to opt out this winter.

“As competitive as I am, I really think this season has become about just being able to get these kids together for some form of normalcy,” she said. “I feel really bad for the kids that haven’t been able to practice, because every night at some point my team will erupt in laughter and every night I think, ‘I hope this doesn’t get shut down because these kids need this.’

“I’m not saying it’s not a competitive season, it certainly is, but I do think there are other things that have come more to the forefront that are just as important in the time that we’re in.”

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...