It will be 22 months since the Busline League — which encompasses 21 Midcoast middle schools from Woolwich to Searsport and three Penobscot Bay islands — held an official basketball game.

Now, that league is on the precipice of making its return.

After the league held its preseason meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 10, schedules were finalized and protocols put in place to begin the 2021-22 court campaign, which will start with practices in November and official game play in early December.

“The league is just really, really excited to be playing basketball,” said Appleton Village School athletic director Josh Mitchell, who is the league’s basketball chairperson. “That is our driving force this year. At our meeting Wednesday we kept having issues coming up on guidelines and scheduling. But it kept coming back to the point made by a lot of people being, ‘Hey, we’re playing basketball and we’ve got games happening.’ ”

The league did not sponsor an official season during the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19, though some schools did hold scrimmages involving its players.

Practices are slated to begin on Monday, Nov. 22 for most schools, with the first games of the regular season to tip off on Monday, Dec. 6.

The Busline League is comprised of: Appleton Village School, Boothbay Region Elementary School, Bristol Consolidated School, Camden-Rockport Middle School, Edna Drinkwater Elementary School in Northport, Great Salt Bay School of Damariscotta, Hope Elementary School, Islesboro Central School, Jefferson Village School, Lincolnville Central School, Medomak Middle School of Waldoboro, North Haven Community School, Nobleboro School, Oceanside Middle School of Thomaston, Searsport District Middle School, South Bristol School, St. George School, Troy Howard Middle School of Belfast, Vinalhaven School, Wiscasset Middle School and Woolwich Central School.

Schools are separated, based on enrollment, into large and small school divisions.

Some schools, such as Drinkwater, may not offer afterschool indoor activities this winter due to the on-going pandemic.

The most significant change to this season from the 2019-20 season — which ended prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in March of 2020 — will have to do with masking and spectator policies, which vary school to school.

The league did make a recommendation — not a requirement — for schools to not allow spectators from the visiting teams. However, fans will be required to mask at events.

Mitchell said the decision to recommend no visitor team fans was made largely “to help with mitigating the virus, keeping it simple and really focusing on the kids playing ball.”

It also gives local schools the autonomy to decide if social distancing and general safety is achievable based on the sizes of their home venues.

Some schools, such as Appleton, will not permit visiting fans to attend its home games. Mitchell said many schools such as AVS with significantly smaller gymnasiums, and overall space, likely wil adhere to the league’s recommendation.

On the other side of the spectrum, Oceanside, which has a significantly larger gymnasium, will allow each home player to have four spectator passes to hand out for each contest — in addition to not allowing visiting fans — in an effort to pare larger crowds.

Boothbay, another school with a sizable gymnasium, will allow home and away fans.

Policies for each of the league’s schools are not known. And, policies are apt to change throughout the season due to varying circumstances.

“We all have an understanding of where each school is at, but by no means is any school exactly the same as the next,” Mitchell said.

Much like nationwide, there will be mixture of players, game personnel and spectators who will vaccinated or unvaccinated.

Mitchell said players who are vaccinated and/or participating in pool testing within their schools have the option to play unmasked while engaged in the game itself, but players will be expected to be masked regardless in all other situations, including but not limited to sitting on the bench and during timeouts.

“When it comes to masks, it really comes down to ‘Well, what are schools currently doing?’ There are schools in the league that aren’t mandating masks during the day at school,” he said. “So we can’t adopt a universal one for the league that says we all mask the entire time because then we’re going against what’s happening in schools currently.”

Mitchell said visiting teams will defer to the home team’s protocols, though “that can be discussed between [athletic directors].”

“For example if a team travels to Appleton and they play with masks on [and we don’t], we can discuss that and we might play to the higher mitigation level and make the best decision for the kids and the game.”

Concessions will not be available at Appleton and Mitchell said it also was “unlikely” other schools would offer them.

Mitchell said a majority of schools will offer the games viewed by streaming. AVS will implement the user-friendly Facebook Live, while others may offer different platforms.

He added the recommendations and policies are not meant to be all-encompassing throughout the season.

“Most of our guidelines say, ‘At this time,’ ” said Mitchell. “So we can readdress away fans and mandates either way as the season goes along.”

The 2019-20 Busline League basketball season, the most recent one played, saw Oceanside Middle School nab a clean sweep of the seventh- and eighth-grade boys and girls large school championships, while the Hope girls and Nobleboro boys collected small school crowns.

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