March 11, 2010

Athlete precautions: Skip the handshakes

MIKE LOWE

— By

Staff Writer

High school athletes in much of southern Maine are being told to stop engaging in pre- or post-game handshakes with opponents, a precaution being taken in light of the global swine flu outbreak.

Athletic directors from the Southern Maine Activities Association and the Western Maine Conference made that decision as part of a ''pandemic preparedness plan'' they devised during a joint meeting Friday in Gorham.

''Everything is precautionary,'' said Gorham High Athletic Director Gerry Durgin. ''We're just trying to follow the protocols set forth by the state in terms of hygiene.''

In addition to banning the customary handshakes, the athletic directors took action on two other subjects:

n To provide a more sanitary environment, schools will provide cups and water when hosting athletic events.

n The SMAA's policy for make-up games, which stipulates that postponed games must be made up on the soonest possible date, will be suspended if a member school is closed.

The athletic directors recommended that teams bring sanitary wipes to all contests and that each school, through its coaches and athletic trainers, establish a protocol for sanitizing weight rooms, training tables, locker rooms and any equipment handled by multiple students (helmets, bats, javelins, shot puts and batons).

In a closing sentence in the plan, the athletic directors stressed that ''these action items and recommendations are precautions and hopefully short-term.'' They note that, other than the actions taken, ''all schools should continue business as usual in terms of schedules.''

''It's not a panic,'' said Durgin. ''These are things that we can do that could assist us in getting through this.''

''The most important thing is to maintain a calm presence,'' said Gary Stevens, athletic director at Saco's Thornton Academy. ''We looked at our role as leaders, what we need to do, our need to encourage our student-athletes to use sound hygiene practices.''

Dick Durost, the executive director of the Maine Principals' Association, praised the conferences for their actions.

State associations in Texas and Alabama have postponed interscholastic athletic events, but Durost said the MPA has not discussed what it would do in response to the swine flu. To date, no high schools in Maine have closed because of the outbreak.

''I suspect it will be on our agenda early next week,'' he said by phone from the MPA's spring conference in Rockport. ''Those two conferences should be commended for taking those initial steps. This is certainly on our radar screen and we will follow the lead that comes out of the state health office and the Center for Disease Control.''

Durost said the MPA has received questions about what it will do if one or more schools are closed for a week. ''It is way too early to start to project what that (response) would be,'' he said. ''We will continue to move forward and make adjustments (later) if we need to.''

Athletic directors in the SMAA and WMC, meanwhile, have begun such discussions.

Stevens said, ''We discussed what our presence needs to be in the schools, what we would do if (a closure) happened to us, what we would do if it happened to a colleague.''

Durgin noted that if a school is shut down, it will affect all of the schools in the conference. One possibility would be to rearrange the schedule of other conference schools so the postponed games could be made up.

''We want to look at all the resources we have,'' Durgin said. ''We have turf fields, we have fields with lights, we have a lot of facilities within our conferences.

''And we would all open up and use them if we have a school in that situation,'' he said.

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

mlowe@pressherald.com

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