While the majority of high schools across the state await word from the Maine Principals’ Association as to whether a fall sports season will transpire, Camden Hills Regional High School went on the offensive and made the decision for itself.

In a joint letter from School Administrative District 28 Superintendent Maria Libby, Principal Shawn Carlson and Athletic Director Jeff Hart, along with seeing the rough waters ahead in light of the uncertain safety impact of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the Windjammers made the unprecedented decision to cancel its interscholastic fall sports season.

CHRHS is believed to be the first school in Maine to make such an announcement.

The statement said the school intends to offer a “modified athletic program“ at Camden Hills, though what that entails is up in the air.

“We have reached the point where we can no longer wait to see if the MPA or State of Maine will even allow interscholastic athletics,” said Libby, Carlson and Hart in the joint statement. “We feel the path forward is very clear and apparent. We have come to the disappointing conclusion that there is no way to adequately minimize the risks of mixing our student population with other school populations in thinking about league competition. We have, therefore, decided that we will not be providing a traditional interscholastic sports schedule this fall. Our first concern must be to do what we can to maintain the health of our student community in order to keep our buildings open for in-person learning for as long as possible.”

Hart will work with coaches on building a fall sports program that will not include interscholastic competitions, but will have practices and “modified games.”

“What exactly that looks like is dependent on the sports and they are a work in progress," the letter stated.

That means, among other things, that for the first time since 2015, there will be a new state Class A girls soccer champion as the Windjammers are the four-time defending titlists who were riding a 69-game unbeaten streak.

"I trust that they're making a decision that they feel is in the best interest of our athletes," said veteran Windjammer girls soccer coach Meredith Messer. "Now it's just a challenge to find a way to have fun, socially distance and enjoy being together."

"I realize that my administration has made a decision they feel is in the best interest of our athletes and our school community as a whole. I would not want to be in their shoes and I respect their decision," Messer said.

Hart said teams will be able to practice together “with modifications” on Monday, Aug. 24, with official fall tryouts and practices to begin on Tuesday, Sept. 8. CHRHS opted not to do summer workouts in conjunction with the MPA’s four-phase plan to allow high school sports to return.

"Being physically active and physically fit it's so important to academic success," Messer said. "I'm glad that we're going to be able to practice and be together and have that outlet for my soccer players."

"Being on such a quality soccer team for the previous three years was an incredible experience so we were super excited to finally be the leaders on the team," said seniors Anya Babb-Brott and Caroline Contento in a combined statement. "We were running some weekly workouts for most of the summer to try and keep everybody in shape and that was so much fun. It feels awesome to finally be the ones that our teammates look up to, which is why we’re really sad we don’t get to have our season.

"That being said, we definitely understand the decision our district made because the safety of everyone in Maine should come first. We’re still holding out hope that a spring season could happen, but in the meantime we’ve been brainstorming ways to make whatever modified season we have a fun one. All in all we think the school made the safest decision for us and we're just going to have to take what comes."

The MPA had planned to release a statement on Tuesday, Aug. 18 regarding the fate of the fall high school sports season, but that decision has been delayed until next week.

And, the Windjammers felt they could not afford to wait longer.

The statement went on to read: “We are trying to balance many needs,” while the “highest priority is to keep our schools open for as long as possible.”

“The importance of face-to-face instruction is not in doubt and all of our decision-making this summer has been to maximize the opportunities for face-to-face instruction,” the letter stated.

The statement also specified that students who play club sports outside of CHRHS will not be allowed to participate on any school-sponsored teams.

“We were planning double sessions starting today,” said Camden Hills football head coach Chris Christie. “Now my concerns are the athletes and their motivation and that they’re handling it the way they should. I told them its OK to be mad or sad, but what we don’t want to do is start throwing around blame. The administration wants sports but they’re considering both the community and the student body.”

Christie added: “The overwhelming feeling I’ve gotten from everyone is let's keep the program growing and keep going forward best we can.”

"I feel for my seniors and their parents," said longtime boys soccer coach Ryan Hurley. "There's definitely a sense of loss. I was holding out hope we might play a modified schedule of teams in Knox and Waldo county but obviously that's not to be. My sense of this decision will seem prudent with the passage of time. Right now I'd just really like to have the opportunity to be with my players this fall, hopefully playing a game of soccer amongst ourselves in some fashion so the kids can move their bodies and shed some of the mental trauma this disease has put all of us through."

Hart said in a separate Facebook post to the Camden Hills Regional High School athletics page that “I want everyone to know that the decision was made by people who care deeply about this community and the students and their families who are impacted by this the most.”

“I love the kids, the faculty and administration,” he said. “All of the people who comprise this high school. As most of you know, I have spent most of my life working for this community, and outside of my family, it is the thing about my life that I am most proud of. In a lot of ways, it is my extended family. I am mourning for my family at Camden Hills right now. I know a lot of you are too. Some of you are going to be hit harder than others. And that stinks for you, and I feel for all of you. We do have to allow ourselves to mourn, but then we have to get moving forward. Somehow, someway, we have to try not to look at it as a catastrophe … we have to try to figure out a way to make it our finest hour. Right now, that isn't easy to see how we could possibly do that. But maybe in a day, or a week, or a month … we start to see how we can do that.”

Field hockey coach Lindsey Clement said, while the circumstances are less than ideal, "we're eager to do our best to give the kids a positive experience."

"A few years ago we revamped tryouts so everything assessed is at game speed, instinctual play and level of grit," she said. "Anyone can execute clean skills through cones and obstacles, but what do they do when an opponent is approaching or when a goalie charges the ball? Performance under pressure is a key benchmark for improvement [individual and team], and without that we will have a tough time keeping kids engaged. Despite eagerness two weeks ago, we know some kids will not be returning now and some still need to choose their club or Camden Hills team. Those are as heartbreaking as the loss of their season."

Golf coach Mark Wallace is "obviously disappointed we won't have a season."

"I thought golf might make it through the gauntlet," he said. "It lends itself to mitigation practices we've all come to know and love. At the end of the day I truly believe that the [administration] has the best interest of students, their families and the community as a whole. I will still be putting a team together and work in team-building and skills. I have no doubt we will come through this just fine. Golf is a life sport and we will continue to support those students interested in being a part of it."

Messer said with her soccer program, "Our challenge now is to keep our athletes engaged, happy and healthy while respecting the guidelines we have been given. I am just glad we will have some outlet to be together and continue to work on the sport we love as a group."

This decision comes after the MPA called off high school spring sports, which included tennis, track and field, baseball, softball and lacrosse. Thus, that makes two straight sports seasons the Windjammers have lost to the pandemic.

Another issue for Camden Hills is the Windjammers play mostly Class A schedules, which means their student-athletes play against larger schools from more populated communities, including Bangor, Lewiston and especially Southern Maine where the pandemic has been more troublesome.

Among the fall school-against-school events lost for Camden Hills include golf, soccer, cross country, football, field hockey and mountain biking.

Along with the Windjammer girls soccer team's impressive state title run, the girls cross-country squad has won or challenged for state crowns annually, the boys soccer team for strong regional places and mountain bike program has been the best in Maine for decades.

"I am saddened that this group of seniors will not have the opportunity to lead our soccer program in the traditional way," Messer said. "It is something they look forward to and is a way they look forward to giving back to their teammates and our program as a whole. I am staying hopeful that a spring season might be possible."