The shoulders that are the 2021 high school wrestling season have not been pinned to the mat just yet.

During a meeting of the Maine Principals’ Association’s Interscholastic Management Committee on Thursday, Nov. 19, it was announced that sport’s season would be moved to a late-February start.

With wrestling being the only winter sport governed by the MPA classified as "high risk," the hope is the COVID-19 numbers — that have been trended upward for weeks — will subside and allow competitive matches to take place.

Under the tentative dates proposed by the state, meets would be permitted to begin on Monday, Feb. 22. Despite the late start, wrestlers would be able to begin conditioning — much like other winter sports — on Monday, Dec. 7 and begin official team practices on Monday, Dec. 14.

The caveat for wrestlers — and other winter sports besides swimmers in the pool — being face masks must be worn at all times. Spectators will not be permitted — largely due to Maine’s restriction of no more than 50 people for indoor gatherings — and athletic schedules will be regionalized as they were in the fall.

Wells coach Scott Lewia, who is the coaches’ liaison to the MPA’s wrestling committee, said holding statewide individual state championships is unrealistic, but region-specific dual-meet tournaments, held over multiple days, could work. Maine held its first dual-meet championships last season.

Belfast coach Rick Kelley already had made peace with the notion there would be no season, only to be pleasantly surprised when the news came out late last week.

“I’m pretty optimistic about it," he said. "I think it was a good move by the MPA to delay it. I tend to be an optimist and it won’t do any harm. It can only help.”

Kelley said his understanding is there will be no more daylong, multi-team tournaments and the season will focus more on dual-meets, which is teams competing head-to-head. Kelley said that is “kind of cool because it puts more emphasis of focusing on just one match at a time.”

The Belfast Duals, held annually, has been the unofficial start to the regular season for many Midcoast teams.

“We can all be hopeful that this COVID-19 thing will be more behind us than in front of us pretty soon,” he said. “Especially with vaccines coming out. That’s certainly encouraging, though it’s not a foregone conclusion, that it could be coming down the road.”

Mount View coach Hamilton Richards, who works for the Maine National Guard, said “It’s a tough call” for the MPA to make and “obviously as folks are going inside, it [COVID-19] is starting to spread more.”

Richards said he is “guardedly optimistic” about the prospects of a mat season.

“I think Maine kind of prematurely patted itself on the back because our rates were so low, but now they’re starting to go up,” Richards said. “I think it’s fairly prudent, but I’m reluctant to get too hopeful because if things really spike after the holidays, they could spike it back a few more months. And then you’re competing with spring sports.”

Richards, who anticipates 10 to 15 wrestlers for Mount View this season, said he plans to begin “real practices around the first of February.”

“We’ll probably have the kids do some strength and conditioning," he said. "You can’t keep kids at peak performance for months on end plus keeping them motivated. Right now they have to wear masks, distancing and they can’t even do wrestling moves. If the season goes too long where they’re just conditioning from December into February, they’re probably going to get bored with it. I’m going to wait until we get on the other side of the holidays before I think about how fast we need to get at it.”

Oceanside coach Jason Yates said: “I am excited for the opportunity that we may still get to have a season.”

“If it happens in February, I'm more than happy to delay the season as long as we get a chance to get it in,” he said. “We’ll get the kids in the best shape possible and in February we’ll be ready to go.”

He added that wrestling, unlike many other sports, is unique in how significantly practices hinge on teammates.

“Unlike a sport like basketball where you can do individual drills like dribbling drills and shooting drills by yourself where you’re not actually touching other people, that’s very difficult in wrestling," Yates said. "So the start will just be conditioning drills, which is pretty tough on the kids. But we would find a way to make it work.”

Like Mount View, Yates anticipates 10 to 15 Mariner grapplers this season.

Medomak Valley athletic director Matt Lash said there are still issues that need to be worked out. Not only in terms of specific wrestling guidelines, but the school gymnasium availability as pitchers and catchers for spring sports, tentatively, report March 22 with spring sports tryouts to begin March 29.

Those things, given the typically cold, harsh Maine winters, are held in the gym, as would be wrestling meets. Many gymnasiums also being used as overflow cafeterias to help students social distance during school days.

Lash said: “It’s just another COVID-related challenge we will need to figure out.”

“Like football, we all know that the guidelines need to change for us to have a season, so if delaying it to a time when the outlook may be better has to happen, I am all for it,” Lash said. “Obviously you feel for the kids now, but all we can do is hold out hope that things improve for their sake.”