The Brewer High School softball team holds up the gold glove after beating York in June 2019 for the Class B state championship in Standish. The Maine Principals' Association has pushed the start of practice for the spring sports season back to April 27.

At long last, high school athletes in Maine can expect a more normal sports experience this spring.

That’s because of changes to Maine’s COVID-19 prevention checklists, including those for community sports, announced Friday by the administration of Gov. Janet Mills.

The state unveiled its Moving Maine Forward Plan, which is designed to clarify the state’s stance on dealing with multiple dynamics as people move into the spring and summer months. The changes are effective immediately.

As part of that effort, the Department of Economic and Community Development released new guidelines for community sports. Among other things, they will allow regular play for low-risk sports and most levels of competition for sports labeled as moderate risk.

High-risk sports will be allowed to resume, but may only consist of intrasquad competition.

In aligning with state mandates, the Maine Principals’ Association, which governs high school athletics in Maine, intends to offer regional and state championship competition this spring for baseball, softball, lacrosse, and outdoor track and field.

All of those are considered moderate risk, while tennis, a low-risk sport, also will be allowed with regional and state championship competition.

The spring sports season is set to start with pitchers and catchers conditioning workouts beginning March 22, followed by formal preseason workouts in all spring sports starting March 29.

Game competition is scheduled to begin April 15.

“We are very optimistic that we can align with those community sports guidelines and it will allow us to have a spring season with championships,” MPA interscholastic executive director Mike Burnham said.

Participants in the 2021 spring sports season still will be required to wear facemasks, Burnham added, and there will continue to be transportation challenges as the number of student-athletes, coaches and other team personnel allowed on a bus will still have to take into account physical distancing, meaning more buses will be required for road trips than was typically the case before the pandemic arrived.

Spectators will be allowed at outdoor spring sports events in compliance with updated mass-gathering limits established last week by the Mills administration and by following COVID-19 safety protocols, including social distancing, Burnham said.

The new mass-gathering limits that become effective March 26 allow for 75 percent of permitted occupancy for outdoor events, a rate that will increase to 100 percent on May 24.

During the fall and winter seasons, the MPA had offered only regionalized competition for lower-risk sports between teams grouped into smaller geographic pods. No regional or state championships were held.

All of those adjustments came after the 2020 spring season was canceled outright as the COVID-19 pandemic descended on Maine.

As a result, some fall sports and others during the winter season either were not offered at all or were altered to comply with state guidance to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. That included no statewide competition or state championships.

The state pointed out that Maine’s Community Sports Checklist is intended for sports clubs, teams and events at the community level. It does not apply to professional and collegiate sports, which are governed by professional and intercollegiate association guidelines, although they must abide by executive orders.

Maine’s General Guidance COVID-19 Checklist, which provides general public health guidance for individuals, businesses and other settings, has been updated to include COVID-19 measures that can be used across a wider range of business situations.

The DECD stressed that although vaccinations have begun in Maine, COVID-19 remains a serious public health threat and citizens are expected to adhere to all health and safety protocols, including wearing masks, practicing physical distancing and avoiding large gatherings.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...