The Maine Principals’ Association announced team-based practices and scrimmages for "moderate" and "high" risk interscholastic winter sports, originally slated to begin on Monday, Dec. 14, have been delayed until Monday, Jan. 4.

The decision, made in collaboration with the Maine School Boards Association, Maine School Superintendents Association, Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association and Mills' Administration, came on Friday, Dec. 4 from Michael Burnham, MPA executive director, as Maine continues to see an increase in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and positivity rate.

The National Federation of State High School Federations, with the Maine Guidelines for Community Based Sports, have labeled indoor track and skiing (Nordic and Alpine) "low" risk, basketball, cheering, ice hockey, swimming and volleyball "moderate" risk and wrestling "high" risk.

The decision, however, allows skill-building drills or conditioning to begin as scheduled on Dec. 7 with face coverings, physical distancing, no close contact, and in limited numbers when possible.

This measure aims to allow student-athletes the opportunity to participate in school sports to a limited extent despite the delay in team-based practice and within-team competition.

Maine also has aligned its Guidance for Community Sports Activities with these changes.

The MPA has released the recommendations of its winter sports committees for a return to play for the 2020-21 season, with documents that outline the more direct changes that can be expected this winter.

Click links below to read complete documents submitted by the MPA's winter sports committees.

The following is a summary of safety protocol expectations for each sport:

Basketball

Due to the 50-person limit on indoor gatherings instituted by the office of Gov. Janet Mills, there will be no spectators permitted in the gymnasiums and athletes, coaches, managers and others involved with games are required to wear masks before, during and after contests.

The jump ball — customary to begin games and overtime periods — has been eliminated and replaced by a coin toss to determine the first alternating possession. Coaches are encouraged to hold meetings pre-, during and postgame while remaining physically distant and unnecessary physical contact, such as high-fives, handshakes, fist bumps or hugs. are discouraged.

Timeouts will be 60 seconds in duration to give student-athletes a chance to remove their masks and hydrate from their own personal water bottles, with those hydrating maintaining social distancing.

Social distancing also must be prevalent on team benches, meaning players likely will be permitted to spread out into gymnasium bleachers or have chairs pushed at least six feet apart.

The game ball will not be used during warmups and will be sanitized during timeouts and between quarters.

Handshakes prior to and following games have been suspended and replaced with the sportsmanship wave. There also will be no pregame introductions with players sent directly to the floor for the start of play.

Cheering or yelling by athletes and coaches is strongly discouraged due to potential projection of respiratory droplets. Clapping is a low-risk alternative.

Officials will wear masks and use electronic whistles.

While team conditioning can begin on Monday, Dec. 7 and official practices on Monday, Jan. 4, games can begin no sooner than on Monday Jan. 11, 2021 and will conclude no later than on Thursday, Feb. 27. Each team can play a maximum of 12 games, with no minimum number of games set.

There will be no Heal Points tabulated or official postseason play, though teams could set their own regional playoffs within their 12-game seasons, depending on local schools.

Ice hockey

Skills and drills (coaches optional) can begin on Monday, Dec. 7 and first practices on Monday, Jan. 4. The first game can begin no earlier than Monday, Jan. 11 and the last game no later than Saturday, Feb. 27. A maximum of 12 games may be played, with no minimum. A two-week window of time (Monday, March 1 through Friday, March 12) has been set aside for potential playoff games.

Heal Points will not be tabulated.

Teams that draw students from more than one county should align with the county most students come from in which the school is located for color designations. If a county is designated "yellow" or "red," events must be suspended.

Due to the limited facilities available, each program (boys and girls) is limited to three hours of on-ice time per week during the preseason. Teams may conduct off-ice conditioning without restrictions.

No spectators are allowed, face coverings must be worn by players, coaches, staff and officials, each athlete should bring their own water bottle and use of locker rooms is discouraged.

All game rules are the same for boys and girls ice hockey, with the exception of game duration. Each game will be played with 90 minutes of ice time and will begin with an eight-minute warm-up period.

Following the warm-up period, the boys games will consist of two 23-minute periods and girls games three 15-minute periods. Ice will be cleaned between periods. If games are tied at the end of regulation, one eight-minute overtime period will be played. If neither team scores, the game will be declared a tie.

Swimming

Skills and drills (coaches optional) can begin on Monday, Dec. 7 and first practices on Monday, Jan. 4. The first meet can begin no earlier than Thursday, Jan. 7 and the last meet no later than Saturday, Feb. 27. A two-week window of time (Monday, March 1 through Saturday, March 13) has been set aside for potential postseason meets.

A maximum of six meets within a school’s geographic region may be scheduled, with no minimum.

All meets will be virtual, meaning each team will swim in its own home pools within 48 hours of each other with at least two officials present. The “visiting team” for each meet will submit its results to the home team, which will then be tabulated by the home team and submitted to statistician Richie Palmer.

No spectators are allowed. Face coverings must be worn by athletes, coaches, staff and officials. Athletes that are swimming are exempt while they are in the pool. Each athlete should bring their own water bottle and use of locker rooms is discouraged.

Swimmers and divers should also not stand behind diving blocks waiting for events and should wait to report to blocks when their event is announced. No more than three swimmers per lane and opposite ends of the pool should be utilized when possible.

Wrestling

Conditioning can begin on Monday, Dec. 7, with first practices not allowed until Monday, Feb. 22. The first allowable meet can be Saturday, Feb. 27 and the last countable meet Saturday, April 10. A one-week window of time from Monday, April 12 through Saturday, April 17 has been set aside for potential postseason meets.

Face coverings must always be worn by coaches, officials and staff, with the face coverings for athletes being two layers at a minimum. Face coverings may be removed while hydrating so long as the person is six feet from anyone else in/on the sideline area.

Face coverings are not currently recommended for wrestlers during active partner practice or competition.

A maximum of 10 meets with no minimum. Dual- or tri-meets only. The mat should be cleaned and disinfected prior to each team match. All weigh-ins are to be done in the gymnasium.

Teams should be limited to two coaches and one manager, with team benches on separate sides of the mat. Towels and water bottles should not be shared and benches should be wiped down prior to a new team sitting in the bench area.

Teams that draw students from more than one county should align with the county most students come from in which the school is located for color designations. If a county is designated "yellow" or "red," events must be suspended.

Wrestlers should sanitize hands prior to wrestling and between periods. No pre- or post-match handshakes. Headgear must be cleaned and disinfected prior to matches.

Physical contact such as high-fives, handshakes, fist bumps or hugs are discouraged. Mouth guards, if used, must be left in through the duration of the match. If removed, wrestlers must sanitize their hands before continuing the match.

Skiing

Skills and drills (either dry land or on skis with a coach present) can begin on Monday, Jan. 7 and first practices on onday, Jan. 4. The first meet can begin on Monday, Jan. 11 and the last meet no later than Friday, March 13. March 1-13 could be for potential league or regional championship races.

Face coverings must be worn by athletes, coaches, staff, officials and spectators. If gators are used, they must be a minimum of two layers. Each athlete should have their own water bottle and teams should arrive ready to ski as use of lodges and locker rooms are discouraged.

Teams that draw students from more than one county should align with the county most students come from in which the school is located for color designations. If a county is designated "yellow" or "red," events must be suspended.

Spectators are allowed at outdoor competitions, but are limited to the number of individuals that can gather in a shared space, in accordance with the Governor’s Executive Order on gathering size limits. Facilities may have further restrictions regarding spectators.

The finish zone should be widened to encourage distancing. Skiers should immediately disperse after finishing and return to their team site.

Eliminate hugs, handshakes, high-fives and fist bumps after races. Award ceremonies are to be done virtually.

Buses and tents — not the venue facilities — are to be used for shelters and warming areas.

Indoor track

Skills and drills may begin on Monday, Dec. 7 and first practices on Monday, Jan. 4. First meets can begin on Monday, Jan. 11 and last meets no later than Saturday, Feb. 27.

Due to lack of facilities to hold meets, there currently are no indoor track meets scheduled, but may be updated should venues become available later.

No spectators are allowed, face coverings must be worn at all times, each athlete should have their own water bottle and use of locker rooms is discouraged.

Teams that draw students from more than one county should align with the county most students come from in which the school is located for color designations. If a county is designated "yellow" or "red," events must be suspended.

In throwing events, athletes can provide their own implement that passes inspection and retrieve it following all throws. If athletes cannot provide their own implement, it should be cleaned and disinfected between each use.

Athletes should not share vaulting poles.

Sprint, hurdle and relay events must be run entirely in lanes and every other lane will be used to assist with distancing. Runners must disperse immediately after finishing races and return to their team area.

In relays, batons must be cleaned and disinfected after each heat/race and relay runners must wash hands or use hand sanitizer before and after the race. Gloves may also be used this year.

Cheering

Skills and drills may begin on Monday, Dec. 7 and first practices on Monday, Jan. 4. First competitions may begin on Monday, Jan. 11 with potential state championships to be held on Saturday, Feb. 27.

All competitions this season will be held virtually. No spectators will be permitted at indoor competitions. A virtual state championship will be held, with the details of that event being developed.

Participants do not share water bottles, pom-poms, megaphones or signs.

Those schools that draw students from more than one county should align with the county from which most students come from or with the county in which the school is located. If a county is designated “yellow” or “red” events must be suspended.

Sideline cheering at basketball games will be suspended this season in an effort to keep less than 50 people in gymnasiums for games.

Face masks must be worn at all times. No hugging, shaking hands or fist bumps for support/encouragement. Stunt groups should be kept together in their cohort and refrain from mixing and matching bases and tops from distinct groups.

Jumping and tumbling should be done independently with no physical interaction. Pyramids are not permitted.

Due to increased risk of transmission associated with vocalization, teams may not perform vocal routines in practice sessions, sidelines, or competitions.

Courier Publications' sports staff can be reached by email at sports@villagesoup.com or by phone at 594-4401.