Freeport High School boys tennis player Clay Canterbury returns a shot last season in a match against Cape Elizabeth. Like all high school spring sports in Maine, the start of the season will have to wait until April 27 to begin due to the coronavirus. (Bob Conn / The Times Record)

On Monday, the Maine Principals’ Association announced that the hands-off period, usually two weeks before the upcoming season, will be extended all the way to April 27, the date the Maine spring sports season was postponed to last Friday in the wake of the coronavirus. 

This means that “there should not be any organized team activity between now and the start of the spring season,” according to the MPA’s memo sent to coaches. 

Coaches understand that being in groups at this time is unsafe, but many coaches wish they could give workout plans to athletes during this time away from school and sports. 

Brunswick High School’s new boys lacrosse coach, Jason Miller, was only able to meet with his team once before the season was postponed and the hands-off period extended. 

“This whole situation is uncharted waters,” Miller said. “I knew myself and a couple other coaches were talking about what we could do for about a month while the kids were home. We wanted to encourage them to obey the intent of the closure, hold each other accountable, text each other how school and workouts are going and we wanted a grand plan to have workouts and have stuff that would play into systems and schemes. But the period threw a wrench into things.”

Miller is confident in the seniors he has on the team to help keep the younger players accountable but knows it’s not the same. 

“I feel like I am boxed in right now and there’s not a lot that I can do,” Miller said. “Everyone is anxious to play. We wanted to get the coaching juices flowing and get the players going.”

Track and field athletes have to design workouts for themselves during this time as coaches can’t talk about their sport with their athletes. Ben Murphy, head coach of the Sacopee Valley track and field team, says if he can reach his students while school is out, he should be able to reach his athletes. 

“I can’t even tell my guys, ‘Hey, here’s a basic core workout you could do, go on a two-mile run,’ just basic stuff that constitutes preseason practice,” Murphy said. I can’t touch base and that’s difficult because we are doing remote teaching and to me that’s remote coaching, there’s not much difference there.”

A senior on the Sacopee Valley track and field team is heading into the Navy when he graduates this year and joined track to prepare for the military’s physical fitness test. Murphy can’t help him until late April. 

“He messaged me Monday and said, ‘Hey, as far as I’m concerned track season starts today so let me know if you have anything for me,’” Murphy said. “And I said, ‘Hey, I’ll get back to you,’ then the post comes out so I can’t even suggest anything to him. I said, ‘I don’t think I can give you a workout but here’s a book I used.’ The fact that I can’t tell a kid to use a program doesn’t make sense at all.”

Murphy said he will be filing an appeal in hopes that the MPA will lift the hands-off period on March 30, the day the spring season originally would have started for all sports besides baseball and softball, which would have had pitchers and catchers report the week before. 

MPA executive director Mike Burnham was called multiple times for comment but was not able to be reached. Assistant executive director Mike Bisson was called but his answering machine said he was out on medical leave. 

Brunswick athletic director Jeff Ramich agrees with the memo that was sent to principals and ADs on Monday. 

“That’s the way it should be and that’s how it should go,” Ramich said. “They have to look out for everybody (as) 95 percent of schools will follow it and 5 percent won’t so they have to do what’s best for everybody.”

Todd Sampson, Edward Little’s athletic director, suggested the MPA’s move was supposed to be similar to the hands-off period before the fall sports when school’s summer programs were finished but has recognized the difference now. 

“That two weeks is a good break but I think it’ll be more of an issue as we get close to normalcy,” Sampson said. Right now we are all at home hanging out so I don’t think there are going to be attempts to have violations, but if we get close to that date to getting back to normal, kids are going to be chomping at the bit to get out together and that’s the hard piece.”

Sampson can see where coaches are coming from as many are frustrated they can’t give workouts to their athletes. 

“I think that pushback is probably valid because in reality most good programs have some offseason workouts that aren’t required like if you don’t do the workout you won’t make the team, but most coaches have them with the mindset of this is what we need to do,” Sampson said.

Injuries were also a concern for Sampson, who said he hopes the MPA will “reevaluate” when April 27 gets closer in hopes kids can start to workout and get in game shape before the season. 

St. Dom’s track and field coach Dan Campbell was going to get some of his team together last week for a workout before he spoke with parents and changed his mind. Campbell has now done more research and agrees that not getting in groups is the right decision.

He agrees with the MPA’s decision to block groups getting together but warns of injuries on the horizon if the rules aren’t changed. 

“As a track coach, they missed the mark,” Campbell said. “I am not the only team I am thinking of, but in my sport it’s going to create a lot of injuries, soft tissue injuries, if the season does start.”

Red Eddies baseball coach Dave Jordan has come up with a plan to try to avoid throwing injuries when the team reconvenes on April 27 by throwing his pitchers a couple innings at a time. 

“It really affects baseball because the overhand throwing is not a natural motion so the one week we would typically have for throwing, particularly for baseball is huge,” Jordan said. “I have come up with a system, for instance, that if we do convene on the 27th we will have a number of pitchers throwing shorter stints. We focus on arm care and health and so we have a lot of depth and that will help us navigate something that is very different and new for all of us.”

Jordan hopes his kids will be ready for the season. 

“We don’t want guys to get together in groups and do things but I would love to see them do things on their own,” Jordan said. “Maybe hit off a batting tee into a net or something or do some throwing on their own. We can’t be in contact with them. We are hoping but we also want them to do things to protect themselves and their families. We don’t want them to be out in groups and get together.”

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