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“Everything is on the table." A group of athletic directors is trying to plan a safe return to fall sports

The Pandemic Project Task Force is made up of more than 50 members from different states and different professions. But all have the same goal in mind.

BANGOR, Maine — As spring flowers blossomed, high school sports never got the chance. The season was canceled before it started, as the coronavirus spread throughout Maine. 

Now, as the summer begins and the fall season looms, what will the future hold for football, soccer, cross-country, and field hockey athletes in the state?

That question has been on the mind of every coach, trainer, and athletic director in Maine. It's a question that requires constant communication with the public and with health officials. So, Thornton Academy Athletic Director Greg Stevens formed a way to talk everything out.

The group is called the 'Pandemic Project Task Force.' A fitting name as dozens of members discuss plans to return to sports in a world where COVID-19 is present.

"(The group is) what educators call a professional learning community," Stevens said on a phone call. "Where you have a group of people meet periodically to talk about their craft.” 

Their craft is high school sports, something they are working on daily in an effort to make sure sports take place come September.

“Now I have people from 15 different states that have come on at one time or another," Stevens added. "And our group has grown to include not only athletic directors but coaches, we have probably had a dozen certified athletic trainers, superintendents of schools, assistant principals.”

Gordie Salls is the athletic director at Sanford High School. He says the first priority is making sure the kids are back in the classroom and not at home continuing virtual learning come this fall.

Another interesting question for sports and day-today operations for schools: How will kids ride the bus?

Credit: NCM
When the sun goes down, and the lights go up, Asst. Coach Jon Cross helps to put the team through its paces

Salls said based on numbers he's seen, only 13 kids will be allowed per school bus. That makes planning difficult if you need to send a football team of 40 kids across the state, or pick up and drop off students every day.

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“So, how are athletic directors going to manage that, even how are we going to get kids to school on time?" Salls asked.

In Brewer, Athletic Director David Utterback said sports are more than just physical exercise for his student-athletes.

“(We need to) understand that social and emotional aspect of what athletics mean to kids and even the connection to the school," Utterback said.

Credit: NCM

"The reality is that there’s a lot of kids that need that tie to the school to even get them to do school work,” he added. 

Besides returning to practice, another issue the task force is dealing with is how to manage sports facilities like concession areas and what to do with fans.

Will there be no fans? Limited? Full capacity?

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Those questions are why this group meets biweekly and listens to health experts.

"So, when it comes to the point where we have to make decisions, we’re making it based on fact," Stevens added.

A benefit for the group is that the state of Iowa just restarted high school sports earlier this month with baseball and softball games. The state normally runs its season into July, so the June start isn't that out of the ordinary.

An Iowa athletic director, Scott Jarvis, joins the calls to help his colleagues in Maine.

What’s happening in Iowa? What did you have to do to get your first practice underway? What did you have to do for your first game? These are all questions Stevens says he asked Jarvis.

The Pandemic Project Task Force will be in constant communication long after this school year ends. The countdown to the first scheduled fall practices is on.

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