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The Maine Principals’ Association announced a reopening of all interscholastic activities in the state late Wednesday afternoon.

That means high school sports as they existed before the COVID-19 pandemic will again be the norm this fall.

The MPA had been working in consultation with several state agencies to offer sports during the 2020-21 academic year, using community sports guidelines developed by the state to govern its own offerings.

But those guidelines were retired by the state this week, leading Maine Department of Health and Human Services commissioner Jeanne Lambrew to say earlier Wednesday afternoon that the MPA would regain final say over the sports and activities it sponsors.

“In light of the increased role that the U.S. CDC has assumed in issuing guidance, the state of Maine has decided to retire its COVID-19 prevention checklists, including community sports,” she said.

“Moving forward, we are happy to offer any sort of input on the Maine Principals’ Association public health protocols for summer or fall sports if they would like it,” she added. “As a reminder, school sports must continue to follow Maine’s current executive order and school requirements and recommendations when those sports are being played on school grounds and in school buildings, but the Maine Principals’ Association will have the ability to decide on fall sports this year.”

Lambrew said that message was shared with MPA officials on Wednesday before she spoke to the media.

“The bottom line is yes, this is part of our going back to the way things were before the pandemic where the Maine Principals’ Association is the governing body for school sports,” Lambrew said.

At a virtual meeting on Wednesday morning, the MPA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee discussed the status of football and wrestling — two sports whose seasons were canceled during the 2020-21 school year — but made no announcements after emerging from an executive session on the topic, according to MPA interscholastic executive director Mike Burnham.

Burnham had said the MPA would not make a public statement until its officials had spoken with representatives of state agencies that have been involved with developing the guidelines, but that stance changed with Lambrew’s words during a televised Maine CDC press briefing.

“It is with great excitement that the Maine Principals’ Association announces a reopening of all interscholastic activities in Maine,” the MPA statement said. “As our state moves to following U.S. CDC guidelines, we will continue to work with the Maine Department of Education, the Maine School Board and Superintendent’s Association and the Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators’ Association to assist schools in developing their individual school plans to allow for a safe reopening plan for their athletes and school staff.

“These plans will look at current requirements and recommendations for schools as well as Maine’s Executive Orders.”

The news is big for all involved in high school sports, particularly members of the tackle football and wrestling communities that had their 2020-21 seasons canceled while being considered higher-risk sports through the community sports guidelines, which prevented interscholastic competition in those sports.

Both sports now are expected to rejoin the varsity ranks for the 2021-22 school year, with football this fall and wrestling next winter.

“I think as much as anything it [was] a matter of everybody getting on the same page and hopefully giving us that final approval,” said Dan O’Connell, head football coach and athletic administrator at John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor and a member of the Maine Football Coaches Association’s executive committee.

“We were eagerly waiting.”

The retired guidelines, designed for both school- and community-based sports, placed different activities in low-, medium- and higher-risk categories. The MPA implemented those guidelines in consultation with state agencies.

Maine was one of the few states nationally not to have a traditional tackle football season during the 2020-21 school year, opting instead for touch football or flag football options.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, 34 states had football seasons last fall while 11 states conducted their primary football seasons this spring.

Gov. Janet Mills announced on May 14 her intention to retire the state’s COVID-19 Prevention Checklists, including the community sports guidelines.

“In light of the increased role the U.S. [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has assumed in issuing guidance, the state of Maine made the decision to retire its COVID-19 Prevention Checklists and to transition to U.S. CDC guidelines as appropriate,” DECD spokesperson Kate Foye said.

Foye said the state has replaced its community sports guidelines with a single general guidance document. It includes recommendations, rather than requirements, regarding such topics as masks, hand hygiene, ventilation, signage, contact tracing and cleaning and disinfection.

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...