Most Maine schools can begin their fall sports practices on Monday, but what the season will look like for student-athletes amid a recent surge in COVID-19 cases is still unknown.
There are currently no plans to disrupt the season or put restrictions on athletes during outdoor activities.
With no statewide guidance issued yet, school districts are currently deciding individually whether to mandate masks in schools and buses this fall or not.
The Maine Principals Association’s Sports Medicine Committee met on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming fall season and potential COVID-19 protocols.
Presque Isle High School athletic director Mark White, a member of the committee, said “nothing definitive” came out of the three-hour meeting.
The coronavirus has surged in recent weeks to the point where the Maine CDC has recommended that people living in 15 of Maine’s 16 counties wear masks inside, regardless of their vaccination status.
There were 221 COVID-19 cases reported throughout the state on Thursday.
“We will continue to recommend that schools follow the U.S. CDC and Maine CDC guidelines as they prepare for a return to school,” said Mike Burnham, executive director of the Maine Principals Association. “That includes a recommendation that students wear facemasks while inside, that those students eligible to be vaccinated do so, and that schools take advantage of the pool testing program that is available.”
Some small schools in Aroostook County, whose fall season is interrupted by the potato harvest break, have been practicing for several weeks.
The first day of school at Central Aroostook High School in Mars Hill was on Wednesday and students aren’t required to wear masks in school or on the athletic fields, but they do have to wear them on buses, according to a school official.
Presque Isle won’t require masks in the classroom when school begins next Wednesday, “but that could change in an instant,” White said.
At Bangor High School, students will have to wear masks in the classroom and on buses, but not for practices or games.
“My biggest concern is that we get interrupted and the players have to put masks back on,” White said. “I just want us to get back to normal as safely as we can.”
Last year was a trying one due to the pandemic.
Regional and state championship games in the fall were canceled. Winter sports were replaced by pod playoff games involving teams in close proximity to each other.
Football was replaced by flag, or touch, football, in a seven-on-seven format.
Athletes had to wear masks for indoor sports and on the sidelines at outdoor sports in the fall and winter.
Rules were altered to keep players safe. In soccer, for example, only five players apiece plus the defending team’s goalie were allowed in the penalty area on corner kicks, free kicks and throw-ins. There were no slide tackles and players in a defensive wall had to be at least 3 feet apart.
Social distancing was emphasized.
There were a very limited number of fans, if any, allowed to attend games in the fall and winter.
Some schools canceled their sports seasons altogether.
It wasn’t until the last week of April that a semblance of normalcy returned for players, coaches and fans.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that updated Maine school sports guidelines would be released on Friday. No updates are expected, and the MPA recommends schools follow U.S. and Maine CDC guidelines.