In this January 2020 photo, wrestlers from Foxcroft Academy (left) and Mount Desert Island wait for the official's signal to begin during a match in Dover-Foxcroft. Credit: Courtesy of Foxcroft Academy

Prospects for a high school wrestling season remain unlikely, but the Maine Principals’ Association wrestling committee this week delayed a final decision.

That panel did move to change a potential first day of formal practices for the sport from Feb. 22 to “TBD (to be determined),” which would allow for teams to continue gathering for so-called “skills and drills” workouts, as has been the case for other winter sports.

“As of now we have postponed [the starting date] and left it open-ended to be determined if things change,” MPA assistant executive director Mike Bisson said. “Is there harm in leaving the season open for coaches to be able work out with their kids for their mental health and physical health? Nothing is lost by leaving it open right now and seeing if things changed in the next couple of weeks.”

One factor that did change this week was a decision by the National Federation of State High School Associations, which oversees high school athletics across the country, to revise its guidance on COVID-19 transmission during sports activities.

The NFHS has discontinued its categorization of various sports as high, medium or low risk for potential coronavirus infection.

“[As] knowledge of the virus that causes COVID-19 has evolved, we have increasingly recognized that transmission depends upon multiple factors that cannot be easily accounted for by simply dividing sports into three distinct categories of risk,” the NFHS said.

Two factors cited are that prevailing community infection rates appear to be the strongest predictor for high school athletes being infected, and proven cases of direct COVID-19 transmission during athletics remain relatively rare.

The MPA’s School Sports Guidance and the state’s community sports guidelines have used higher-, moderate- and lower-risk categorizations to determine how individual sports may or may not be conducted in Maine during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tackle football and wrestling are considered higher-risk sports, meaning they are limited to Level 2 activity — team-based practices with physically distanced group activities — and no intrasquad competition or matches against other teams.

That will remain the case for now.

“The coaches’ liaison and many [MPA wrestling] committee members felt why cancel now?” Bisson said. “Obviously you can’t have a competitive season if you’re labeled a high-risk sport at Level 2, which means physically distanced conditioning and skills and drills.

“I’ve heard from coaches that the kids certainly want to wrestle and they’re disappointed, but they are appreciative to be watching film and doing some physical conditioning, and we wouldn’t want to shut that down.”

Wrestling supporters hope state agencies involved in creating the community sports guidelines will follow the NFHS’ lead and reconsider their risk-assessment format, and that such a change might allow for a competitive season beyond the skills and drills workouts.

“We know they [state agencies] look at a number of different criteria and if they do look at that and things change, then maybe we have an opportunity [to allow wrestling].”

Otherwise, high school wrestling in Maine likely would be limited to its present non-competitive status this winter.

“We work very closely with the state health agencies,” Bisson said. “We don’t want to be in a position where we’re at odds with them, we’re working together. They’re the health experts, and we’re going to follow their recommendations.

“Something would have to change for us to have a season.”

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...