Jaclyn Tourtelotte has carefully watched the student-athletes at Foxcroft Academy practice and play their way through the COVID-19 pandemic since preseason practices began last summer.
As the school’s athletic administrator, she has worked with coaches in various sports seasons to create competitive opportunities — all with a keen eye on the players’ health in her role as athletic trainer at the Dover-Foxcroft school.
News Tuesday that Gov. Janet Mills has relaxed Maine’s outdoor face mask requirements in the wake of new federal guidance — and the hope that changes to the state’s community sports guidelines that might unmask high school student-athletes for outdoor activities — had Tourtelotte hopeful that she’d soon be able to see her athletes from yet another perspective.
“It would be great to see a kid make a great play and be able to see him smile,” she said.
That opportunity should be in full evidence for spring sports after the Maine Principals’ Association on Wednesday afternoon issued revised guidelines for sports.
Face coverings no longer are required for outdoor practices and competitions, though masks are recommended when 6 feet of physical distancing is difficult to maintain.
Masks still are required when individuals are in settings such as locker rooms, rest rooms or buses.
In addition, spectators are not required to wear a mask at outside events if they are able to maintain 6 feet of social distancing.
All of the new guidelines align with Maine’s newly revised community sports guidelines.
The announcement came after the MPA on Wednesday morning sent a proposal to state officials, according to MPA interscholastic executive director Mike Burnham.
Earlier this week, new federal guidance and the state’s initial response to them fostered hope for a return to normalcy for interscholastic sports and other outdoor athletic activities such as road racing.
“I was really impressed with how quickly Maine changed the written guidelines for all of us after the CDC’s announcement. It seemed almost simultaneous,” said Gary Allen of Great Cranberry Island, a longtime road race director whose events include the Mount Desert Island Marathon and the Millinocket Marathon.
“It seems like more and more as people are getting vaccinated more and more things are being relaxed and it does make me feel more optimistic.”
Allen served as an official last weekend at the first track and field meet hosted by Mount Desert Island High School of Bar Harbor in more than 600 days.
“The kids obviously did what they were supposed to do and wore masks in order to compete, but there was a side of me that was a little sad not being able to see their faces,” he said.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if some of these kids, especially the seniors, in one of their next meets, or if the state meet can be held, could be able to compete without their masks.’”
The community sports revisions mirror Mills’ statement Tuesday, which indicated that face coverings would remain required for outdoor settings where the 6-foot social distancing standard is challenging, as well as for indoor public settings.
“I think it just comes down to people respecting other people’s space,” Tourtelotte.
Allen had planned to host the Bridge the Gap road race from Prospect across the Penobscot Narrows Bridge to Bucksport this weekend, but for now has postponed that event.
The next scheduled race he’s directing is the Downeast Sunrise Trail Relay, a 102-mile team event July 23-24 from Ellsworth to Eastport that he expects to attract 400 runners.
“It’s already sort of a socially distanced event because all of the teams are spread out over a 102-mile course, but teams travel together in the support vehicles so we would need to have protocols in place for that,” Allen said.
He hopes staging the Downeast Sunrise Trail Relay could lead to the return of the MDI Marathon in October and the Millinocket Marathon in December after a year’s absence.
“I think it’s going to be one of those situations where the rules regarding road racing will continue to evolve and the rules for high school sports will continue to evolve, but I don’t think we’re months and months away from things getting better,” he said. “I think week by week as a higher percentage of Americans and Mainers keep getting vaccinated it’s going to further relax things.”