Play ball.

And run, spike and take your best swings.

That was the determination made by the Maine Principals’ Association on a historic day Thursday afternoon, Aug. 27 as it was announced the organization's interscholastic management committee accepted the motion presented by the sports medicine committee one day prior to allow fall high school sports to move forward in the coming weeks amid safety concerns due to COVID-19.

While the MPA’s decision was the most significant hurdle, for many it is not the last as the onus will shift to individual school districts — and a few high-ranking state agencies — as to whether they will allow teams to take part in the fall sports seasons.

That hit home in the Midcoast on Friday, Aug. 21 as Camden Hills Regional High School of Rockport pulled out of MPA-sanctioned sports for the fall, a decision that came six days before the MPA's official decision to move forward.

The MPA meeting on Thursday, which began at 2:30 p.m., broke at 3:05 p.m. for executive session and came back at 4:20 p.m., and accepted the motion unanimously and as presented.

High school sports in Maine consists of football, soccer, field hockey, golf, cross country and volleyball.

Thursday's MPA ruling still will need the approval of the Department of Health and Human Services, Maine Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and governor's office.

Click on link below to read the return to sports guidelines from the MPA.

Mike Burnham, MPA interscholastic executive director, said: “I think it’s important to note the MPA is an organization made up of 151-member schools [and] it’s not just the six people that work in our small office.”

He added there are 25 standing committees that oversee sports for member schools in Maine.

“What we are discussing today is the work of many people,” he said, adding “This is the framework of what we feel is a safe return for these activities.”

Dr. William Heinz, chairman of the MPA sports medicine committee, said golf and cross country are viewed as low risk; volleyball, soccer and field hockey, moderate risk; and football, high risk.

Heinz said all other sports have been given a green light, while football has been given a “blinking yellow light,” adding that if issues or outbreaks arise in the sport, the MPA could recommend going to touch football or 7-on-7 football.

“We are doing everything we can to make fall sports at safe as possible, while keeping in mind there is still a risk,” Heinz said.

It also will be required fall coaches take a course on COVID-19 recommended by the MPA, a 25-30-minute course that educates about coronavirus, what to watch for and to decrease transmission of the disease. While it is not required, it is strongly recommended officials do the same.

It also is strongly recommended each school has an emergency-action plan in place in case of any medical events on site.

Of the fall sports in question, the only sport it was determined would have student-athletes wearing masks during play was volleyball, as volleyball is the lone indoor fall sport.

Masks or neck buffs must be worn during play and teams will not alternate sides/benches during matches, as is customary with that sport.

For football, Heinz said seven states already have begun football and more than 1,000 high school games have been played, with no outbreaks short of a small one in Alaska.

The team box on both sides will be extended from the 10-yard line both ways — a total of 80 yards — to allow more social distancing between players. Previously, it was the 25-yard line both ways, which is a total of 50 yards.

Each sideline also will have three to four sanitized and disinfected balls ready to rotate into games at all times. There also will be more time given during timeouts to hydrate and it is recommended player mouthguards stay in at all times.

In addition, preseason, typically two weeks in length, has been lengthened to three, meaning regular-season football games could not begin before Friday, Sept. 25.

Oceanside football coach Wes Drinkwater said, "I'm just happy to hear positive news not just for football, but athletics as a whole" and "am very much looking forward to being with my guys, coaches and players and getting the wheels turning back into coaching."

"As for the new rules, the spacing on the sideline won’t effect me other than I won’t get sideline warnings for leaving the coaches box," he said. "The longer timeouts are a plus for talking with individual players and getting the team a water break in a safe way. I will struggle with the multiple game ball thing, but that’s why I have a great group of organized coaches that make up for what I lack in that aspect."

Sam Miller, who will be a senior for Oceanside and plans to play football, said: "I understand the precautions and necessary procedures to help keep the players healthy and safe, and I’m willing to do anything as long as I’m able to have a season and get on that field one last time as an Oceanside Mariner."

"Football is a big part of my life," said Miller. "Since I can remember I’ve always wanted to play and I got the chance when I was in grade school [playing for the Rockland Tigers] and as each year went by my love and passion for the game grew stronger. And now, with a team of great athletes [who are also my “brothers” on and off the field] and a terrific coaching staff, I could see us going very far and I don’t want that to be thrown away because of COVID-19."

In soccer, slide tackles will no longer be permitted, with each team allowed to have five players only (other than the goalie) in the goalmouth for corner kicks and throw-ins. There also will be an officials' timeout midway through the 40-minute halves for players to hydrate and sanitize hands. As in football, it is encouraged that mouthguards remain in at all times.

Searsport boys soccer coach John Frye said this is the "first step."

"[There's] still two more steps, but it's a positive step," he said. "For rules, we will do whatever they want to get the kids back on the fields. Sliding tackles not a big deal, but as a team we like to load the box, so we will have to adjust for that. The timeout is a good thing for small schools with not as many players on a team. Just hoping the kids don't miss another season of sports."

Mount View girls soccer coach David Page said: "While I'm excited by the MPA's decision, like others, I was expecting this to be the final say."

"Obviously the kids want to play and coaches and administrators want them to have the opportunity to do so safely but right now they're being strung along with information and optimism changing every day," he said. "Hopefully we'll all do the right thing by these kids and find a way to safely let them get back to playing and interacting with their teammates."

Oceanside boys soccer coach Matt Petrie is "anxious to get started" and hopes his players have "stayed in shape so we can hit the ground running."

"I think the changes are able to be followed fairly easily," he said. "Mouthguards were supposed to be kept in the mouth anyway. The 5-versus-5 in the box on corners and throws will keep things cleaner and easier to keep track of. The rule on slide tackles doesn’t bother me, I feel like that will help the game."

"Only five in the box from each team would likely be good for us, but also I think you will see a cluster of other players outside the box defeating the purpose," said Mount View boys soccer coach Jeremy Von Oesen, who coached the Mustangs to the Class C North regional title last year "Also, when will players be allowed in, will short corners become more prevalent, what does a restart look like for violation, etc. I understand trying to implement a few things, but see them being difficult and these teams will spend 80 minutes in close contact on the pitch so I’m not sure these changes will do more than complicate things."

In field hockey, only one player can substitute into a game at a time at either end of scoring table, while referees can remove a player from the game if that player is seen removing her mouthpiece. The player is eligible to return to the field after the mouthguard has been sanitized.

There also will be no penalty chair — which is an unnecessary extra item to sanitize — and athletes will simply take a knee in that instance. There also will be more time between quarters so athletes can get their own water bottles and properly hydrate. It was announced in February field hockey would move from two 30-minute halves to four 15-minute quarters.

Mount View field hockey coach Gloria Hewett said: "We are all happy to have a green light" and "I have four very happy seniors right now."

"The substitution rule won't change much since I rarely substitute more than one player at a time," said Hewett. "The mouthguard is basically the same except for sanitizing it if it's removed. Athletes needed to have their mouthguard in at all times last year too. As far as the penalty chair, that is a pretty rare event for Mount View and they will be fine taking a knee for a minute if they are green carded. A five-minute yellow card will be a little less comfortable, so that might encourage girls to follow the rules better. Going to quarters and extending the time between will allow kids time to get drinks and do any sanitizing they need to do."

Oceanside field hockey coach Joanna Hall, who also is a physical education teacher at the high school, "was quite surprised to see the MPA gave the go-ahead."

"Even with the proposed changes for field hockey, which I think are pretty minimal, they do not come close to meeting the safety requirements that PE classes must follow for physical activities," she said. "During the school day from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., I , as a physical education teacher, am required to keep students who are not wearing masks while participating in physical activities outdoors, at least 14 feet apart. We cannot practice and play field hockey that way. At OHS we are cohorting students to try and minimize the risk to students, staff, and families. Fall sports teams would mix the groups of students which, I believe, could reduce the potential effectiveness of this safety measure. I really missed having summer field hockey with the girls and I really look forward to seeing them once school starts. With or without a fall season we are still a team and I have a wonderful group of young ladies whose safety is my number one concern."

In cross country, staggered starts are likely and it is being recommended courses be widened so there are at least six-foot dimensions at the narrowest points of courses. The finish chute also will be expanded and runners are encouraged to not slow down or collapse at the finish and quickly return to their designated team areas upon completion of races.

Runners are not required to wear masks during races, but must wear one in the starting area and put one back on once the race has completed.

In golf, the same guidelines set out by the Maine State Golf Association will be used throughout the summer. Flags will stay in the hole at all times, rakes will not be used in sand traps and motorized carts will not be permitted.

Burnham said that when it comes to spectators, venues will be taken into account and the MPA will plan to outline a similar set of guidelines as to what Gov. Janet Mills has laid out in terms of mass gatherings.

In addition, team personnel and timekeepers at head tables also will be required to wear masks, while officials have the option to wear masks if they choose.

There also was no discussion of fall cheering as, where there is no competitive element to that activity, cheerleaders would fall under the MPA’s soon-to-be-determined spectator policy.

Competition cheering, which is a winter sport, will have its own set of guidelines for the winter, as will all other winter sports.

The fall sports season is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, Sept. 8, with the first playable date for regular-season games/events to take place for all sports other than football on Friday, Sept. 18.

All of this comes after the MPA halted the spring sports season, which included the loss of baseball, softball, track and field, tennis and lacrosse, due to the onset of the pandemic.

One day ahead of the announcement by the MPA to determine whether high school fall sports would happen, the organization’s sports medicine committee made its recommendation on Wednesday, Aug. 26 all athletics be played in the first season of the academic year.

The panel’s recommendations, amid safety concerns over COVID-19, was voted on Thursday, Aug. 27 by the MPA, which made the determination soccer, football, golf, cross country, field hockey and volleyball would take place on an interscholastic competition level.