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Spring eternal: Rebirth for high school student-athletes on horizon

At this point, it appears spring sports will return to 'normal' for 2021
By Mark Haskell | Mar 15, 2021

Augusta — The stranglehold that has been COVID-19’s grasp on Maine high school sports for a full calendar year, according to reports, appears to be loosening.

According to Mike Lowe of the Portland Press Herald, the Maine Principals’ Association announced on Friday, March 12 it will be able to hold regional and state championship events for baseball, softball, tennis, track and field and lacrosse.

It will be the first time the MPA has sponsored regional or state playoffs since the 2019-20 winter season.

This is good news for spring athletes, coaches and fans after schools lost the 2020 spring campaign.

The association, which governs member school's varsity sports, is able to offer championships because the state modified the risk levels in its Community Sports Guidelines earlier Friday.

A news release from the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, which oversees the Community Sports Guidelines, stated “the Maine Principals’ Association has committed to aligning its guidance for school sports with this revised guidance for community sports.’

Sports considered “moderate risk,” such as baseball, softball, lacrosse and track and field, will be able to include “in-person competitions between teams in different geographic areas within Maine.” Tennis is regarded as a “low-risk” sport and is able to conduct competition against teams from other states.

Pitchers and catchers reportedly are allowed to report to baseball and softball teams on Monday, March 22, with other spring student-athletes to begin on Monday, March 29.

Official competitions, tentatively, are slated to begin on Thursday, April 15. However, while the MPA aligned its guidelines with the Community Sports Guidelines, it has not officially corresponded with school athletic directors with official word or specific guidance on spring sports.

MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham said masks will continue to be worn for the foreseeable future at events and while fans will be permitted to attend games outside, all must continue to monitor gathering limits as it pertains to COVID-19 protocols.

"This is certainly good news and we are excited at the prospect of having a spring season," said Burnham. "There will still be some restrictions in place, the wearing of masks by athletes, coaches, officials, and spectators being one; maintaining six feet of distancing by people not in your family circle being another. Now that we are moving forward with a season, once the guidelines have been revised, we will work on the schedules and where the championships may be held. Hopefully, by June the colleges will have opened up and will allow outside groups to access their facilities."

On Friday, March 5, Gov. Janet Mills announced changes in gathering limits that will directly impact outdoor sports. On Friday, March 26, the gathering limits will increase to 75 percent, while on Monday, May 24 it will increase to 100 percent.

Maine had its first documented case of COVID-19 on March 12, 2020, while three days later, Mills declared a civil state of emergency. At that time, the MPA also canceled the remainder of the winter’s unified basketball season.

Then, on April 9, after remote learning was largely in place for schools throughout the state, the MPA formally announced the cancellation of the spring high school sports season.

Since that point, to say high school sports in Maine have been dramatically impacted would be an understatement.

The fall season saw no traditional high school football or volleyball as those sports were categorized as high risk in terms of transmitting COVID-19. Other sports such as soccer, field hockey, cross country and 7-on-7 flag football — the latter being the state’s alternative to traditional 11-on-11 tackle football — saw varying degrees of success.

Golf, the lone sport where social distancing is easily achieved and largely the norm, was the only sport to complete its season, albeit with regional regular-season competition.

Most sports that transpired were done with no fans in attendance and team personnel were expected to be masked at all times and to maintain social distancing whenever possible.

Most schools saw their seasons cut short due to some schools having documented cases of COVID-19 and others simply fell in the state’s yellow or red color-coded designations, recommending sports again being suspended.

Area high schools from Medomak Valley of Waldoboro to Searsport — and those in-between — were impacted.

Camden Hills canceled its fall seasons for all sports, but later changed its stance, allowing golf and cross country to return.

Area island high schools — Vinalhaven School, North Haven Community School and Islesboro Central School — opted not to have fall or winter sports seasons, though the Islesboro boys basketball team did play two games at the end of this season.

Winter school sports saw all traditional athletics other than wrestling — categorized as high risk — return for limited regular seasons, but with no official regional or state championship events.

The only sport to hold such an event will be cheering as that championship has the benefit of being held virtually.

Schools that participate in the state cheering championships must have their routines submitted to the MPA by Thursday, March 18. Those routines will be judged on Saturday, March 20, with routines and final results to be made public via a livestream on Saturday, March 27.

Mike Lowe and Deirdre Fleming of the Portland Press Herald contributed to this report.

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