MAINE, USA — For weeks, high school student athletes, coaches, and players have been waiting for some sort of news on the future of the fall sports season.
On Wednesday, those spirits were lifted, as the Maine Principal's Association's (MPA) Sports Medicine Committee released plans for the safe return of all sports this fall.
In a unanimous vote on Thursday, the MPA's Interscholastic Management Committee approved those plans, meaning the governing body of Maine high school sports is supporting a season this year.
Although this was a major hurdle, it is not the last. Executive Director of the MPA Mike Burnham said there is still work to be done with state agencies.
"We continue to work very closely with the governor's office, (Department of Health and Human Services), the community and economic development committee, and we have asked them for their feedback. Please understand this is a working document; that we think it is important to have input from all of those state agencies," Burnham said after the announcement.
The state will now decide if the guidelines put in place are following its COVID-19 safety guidelines.
It is believed the MPA will send its recommendations to the Governor's office for approval from other state agencies.
The 'final' decision on if teams can take the field, course, or court this fall is up to those state and local school departments. Camden Hills announced last week it will not have a fall sports season this year, a decision that some think will not be made alone. On Thursday, the school board for MSAD 11 (Gardiner area) voted unanimously to let kids play. That decision is pending state approval, though.
Former Maine CDC director Dr. Dora Anne Mills spoke to the Portland Press Herlad after the MPA announcements, expressing concern. She says now is "not the time" for Maine high schools to resume sports as usual, added that cross-state competition for high-contact sports like football and wrestling could pose risks -- for athletes and their families."
David Utterback is the athletic director at Brewer High School and said now that schools have the go-ahead to play, they can also decide if the safety guidelines presented are safe enough for students.
“There’s going to be other layers that go that, local school boards are going to have then have to decide what they want to do," Utterback added.
Safety guidelines were released for each sport on Wednesday and emphasized during Thursday's meeting before the vote was announced.
Golf and cross-country were given green lights at the beginning of the discussion. Competitive golf tournaments have been played all summer with the same guidelines that would be used for the high school season.
Players will leave pins in the cup, and no touching of sand trap rakes will be allowed.
Cross-country runners will be masked up before and immediately after each race. The finish and start lines will be modified, as it was said in Thursday's meeting some runners "collapse" after races and spit or vomit, which caused concern over COVID-19 spreading.
Field hockey athletes, and any athletes wearing a mouth guard, will be instructed to wear it at all times when playing. Extra timeouts will be awarded during games for personal water breaks with each player using their own bottle.
Volleyball is the only sport in the fall played inside. The MPA did discuss moving the sport outside this year, but logistically, it decided it wouldn't work.
Players will be required to wear a face shield or mask when playing, and teams will not switch sides in between sets.
Soccer and football were sports considered high-risk by many this summer. The MPA decided soccer is a moderate-risk sport, like volleyball.
Along with mouth guard wearing, and more timeouts, slide tackling will only be allowed to save the ball from going out of bounds, or if no other player is within six feet. Another recommendation, only five players on offense and defense will be allowed in the 'box' in front of the goal.
Football is the only sport labeled as high-risk. The MPA mentioned that seven other states have already played at least one week of high school football with no COVID-19 outbreaks. That includes weeks of preseason and training camps.
The lack of outbreaks was a deciding factor for the Sports Medicine Committee's decision to recommend playing football.
All coaches and players on the sidelines in every sport will wear masks. Coaches will be required to take a COVID-19 training course before the season begins.
Although it wasn't the final decision, athletes like Foxcroft Academy's Logan Martin are ready to play.
"My coach actually told me that our head of school said if we can play, we will play, so that's definitely good news."
Despite the guidelines being put in place, time will tell how many school districts opt out of playing this fall. Time is ticking, as preseason practices are set to begin on Sep. 8.