Following the cancellation of the Little League World Series and its regional tournaments on Thursday, local Little Leagues are trying to figure out a way to play ball this summer. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

It’s been eight weeks since the sports world came to a halt because of the coronavirus pandemic.

No games. No practices. No cheering.

The entire spring high school season was canceled. College spring seasons were halted. Golf courses are now open, but with restrictions that will make it impossible for the Maine State Golf Association to hold any of its weekly tournaments in May. Tennis courts are closed. There are almost daily announcements of recreational events being canceled.

With summer approaching, coaches and athletes are hoping that the games might resume. High school coaches are planning summer-league seasons, all the while waiting for the latest recommendations from the Maine CDC and the governor’s office. Last week, Gov. Janet Mills released a four-stage plan to reopen Maine. It included tentatively increasing the limit on public gatherings to from 10 to 50 people by June 1.

Yarmouth High girls’ lacrosse coach Dorothy Holt: “Every coach I’ve talked to and texted with is, like, let’s do something for these girls. Especially the seniors. I’d love to give them some type of proper send off. On the field.”  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“I think everything is adaptable, but of course we have to follow the governor’s recommendations, the CDC, and be safe. The priority is to be safe first, and to play is second,” said Yarmouth High girls’ lacrosse coach Dorothy Holt. “We have to look at a lot of things, but every coach I’ve talked to and texted with is, like, let’s do something for these girls. Especially the seniors. I’d love to give them some type of proper send off. On the field.”

But it is a difficult balancing act, with many questions to consider. And those questions, said William Heinz, the chair of the Maine Principals’ Association’s Sports Medicine Committee, need to be answered before any games should be played.

“At this point we have to continue to follow CDC guidelines with social distancing and limited contact,” said Heinz, a retired Portland orthopedist who also served as chair of the National Federation of State High School Associations medical board. “Conditioning and weight training and maybe skill work could be allowed. As far as getting whole teams together to scrimmage, I don’t think that’s an appropriate thing to do. We don’t have enough information.

“Our approach from the MPA is that, we’re going to be more careful. We don’t care if someone looks back a year from now and says we were way too cautious. I’d rather have that than someone get sick and a whole team exposed.”

The MPA’s Interscholastic Management Committee will meet Thursday to begin discussions on summer guidelines. Normally, the MPA doesn’t get involved with summer activities, other than enforcing a two-week hands-off period at summer’s end. But this year is unlike any other.

Normally, the Maine Principals’ Association doesn’t get involved with summer activities involving high school athletes. But this year is unlike any other. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“We will start the conversation about working with schools, working with the Department of Education, working with the governor’s office, working with the CDC, on recommendations around summer programming, based on the best information available,” said MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham. “I support the plan that the governor presented, to phase these activities in. If we follow that same philosophy, if it’s safe for maybe two or three kids to be in the same area, maybe that’s a start before you do full team activities or before you have a camp. Those are the discussions we’re going to have.”

But it’s not just high school sports officials who are having discussions. Following the cancellation of the Little League World Series and its regional tournaments on Thursday, local Little Leagues are trying to figure out a way to play ball in 2020. Local running clubs are canceling races, the latest being the weekly Back Cove Series in Portland. Tennis tournaments are being canceled.

Sports camps at colleges are being canceled, or at least postponed until later in the summer.

Here’s a look at what schools and organizations are trying to do to keep people active this summer.

HIGH SCHOOL SUMMER LEAGUES

The coaches behind the CMG Mortgage summer Wood Bat League believe they can play games this summer. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Veteran high school baseball coaches Mike D’Andrea and Mike Rutherford believe they can still operate their CMG Mortgage summer Wood Bat League this year. They want to run it for one primary reason.

“More than anything else, the kids, they’re depressed. They need some positive news,” Rutherford said.

That seems to be the main focus for all the high school coaches looking to play in summer leagues.

“These kids need to be outside, they need to get together, they need to get going,” said Skowhegan High field hockey coach Paula Doughty. “It’s been really hard for them.”

Skowhegan plays in a 10-team summer league that Doughty hopes continues this summer under the guidelines to reopen the state set forth by Gov. Mills last week.

Plans are underway for a 30-team summer soccer league for high school players, starting perhaps by June 23. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Mike Andreasen, the boys’ soccer coach at Greely High in Cumberland, has put together a summer schedule for a 30-team soccer league that he hopes can start on June 23, eight days after the MPA allows teams to begin holding summer team activities. If the state’s guidelines prohibit still starting that early, he said they could wait until July to begin playing games.

“We’re just waiting on our athletic directors, our rec directors (who run the fields), and we’re waiting on Gov. Mills to see what can be done,” said Andreasen, who is also the girls’ basketball coach at Gray-New Gloucester High and hopes to be able to play basketball games this summer.

He said he has told the other soccer teams that the games would be played without spectators and that rosters would be limited to 20-22 players, thus falling within the 50-person max for group gatherings in Stages 2 and 3 of the governor’s plan.

“There’s still a lot of time,” he said. “But I know we’ve got to get ready. We’re still 45, 50 days away. Just this week we had a great breakthrough, to ease the guidelines. This week has been a good sign, I’m hoping there continue to be good signs.”

One of the biggest questions that must be answered is how social distancing can be followed during a game.

“How do you social distance in a basketball game or a soccer game? You can’t do it,” said Heinz, the MPA’s medical director. “Even wearing masks and taking everyone’s temperature before, I’m not sure we can protect all these kids. And that’s the concern. You could potentially spread this virus to 25 different people if you have one sick kid on the field. And I’m even more concerned for the coaches or officials. They’re at risk for a bad outcome if exposed.”

Social distancing could be an issue for all sports. But noting that his wife works in a hair salon, one of the businesses allowed to reopen by the governor on Friday, Portland’s Rutherford said “If you’re going to be able to stand over someone coloring their hair for 30 minutes, we’re not any closer than that” on a baseball field.

Yarmouth’s Holt is planning on running team practices on Tuesdays in July and has communicated with coaches from a number of southern Maine teams about holding round-robin games on Thursdays. She believes girls’ lacrosse, which does not allow checking, can be played, though, “I don’t think kids can play in masks. Maybe coaches in masks and kids on the sideline with neck pull-ups they can use to cover their mouth and nose when they’re on the sidelines.”

Andreasen shares Holt’s doubts are playing with masks. The MPA’s Heinz isn’t sure masks would help on the field. “Even if they’re wearing a mask, is that going to protect them or another player? I think the answer is no,” he said.

Portland High boys’ basketball coach Joe Russo and his peers are planning on a summer basketball league, but cautions “I’m putting contingency plans in place, if we can’t have a league, if we can’t have workouts.” Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Portland High boys’ basketball coach Joe Russo said he and his peers are still planning on having a summer schedule of practices and games, “but I’m putting contingency plans in place, if we can’t have a league, if we can’t have workouts.”

Russo echoed many coaches when he said he’s waiting to get instructions on what he can and can do with his players, from both his school administrators and the MPA. If he can meet with his players – and facilities are open – Russo said there can still be valuable one-on-one instruction.

“Individual workouts are so important for a coach, because during a season it’s mostly team approach; to work with a player one-on-one, summer’s the time,” Russo said.

Football coaches have ramped up their summer workouts in the last decade, emphasizing passing game skills with 7-on-7 games, and organizing summer camps.

Leavitt Coach Mike Hathaway said in recent years he’s had as many as 18 teams visit Turner on a single night for a 7-on-7 tournament.

“I’m guessing we won’t have 18 teams this year. It wouldn’t shock me if we didn’t have games against any other team,” Hathaway said.

Leavitt High football coach Mike Hathaway hopes his team can hold 7-on-7 scrimmages against other schools this summer, but realizes that may not be feasible. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Hathaway said he and other coaches are looking toward June 1, when the restriction on gatherings is expected to expand to 50 people, as a key date. Bonny Eagle Coach Kevin Cooper is also anxiously waiting for direction about what he can and can’t do with his players.

“If we’re allowed to do stuff in July, coaches will hastily put together 7-on-7 competitions and get our weight rooms up and going, but honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Aug. 17 is the date we can resume sport activities,” Cooper said. Aug. 17 is tentatively the first day for fall high school sports practices to begin.

Hathaway said football coaches, in particular, will also have to be cognizant about locker room and weight room use. His biggest concern is being able to offer some sort of activity, even in a drastically modified fashion, to keep kids engaged with teammates and their athletic interests.

“If you like school, or music, or art, there’s still that distance type learning and opportunities, but for kids who are two-, three-sport athletes who are used to sports being their primary way to socialize and motivate themselves and live a good life, those kids are in a bind right now,” Hathaway said. “Certainly there’s some concern about mental health and those guys just making it through these things.”

Thornton Academy Athletic Director Gary Stevens is not sure there will be a summer season for any teams. But, he said, now is the time to start thinking about what can be done.

“I think we spent most of our energy and time the last six weeks focusing, on seniors in particular, (and) on spring athletes to help them recoup the loss they’ve had,” he said. “Now that we’re beginning to see a phasing into a new normal, a resumption of some activities in a tiered way, we have to figure out if we’re back in business and can hold athletic contests, and how we can do so in the new normal.”

Donna Jordan, the field hockey coach at Boothbay, said only time will determine if the summer leagues are held.

“I think everyone hopes to be playing,” she said. “Unfortunately, that’s the future and it’s hard to predict right now. We’ll keep fingers crossed that we can play, but others will dictate that to us.”

Maine Ultimate has had to cancel its high school season, but this summer players might be able take part in individual skills contests. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

While MPA-sanctioned spring sports were canceled April 9, Maine Ultimate was still hoping it could play its spring high school season for the field sport played with a flying disc. That hope was squashed this week by Gov. Mills’ updated standards and the determination of USA Ultimate.

Tom Stoughton, the state youth coordinator for Maine Ultimate, said Maine may be closer to getting something going again than the rest of the country because of the relatively low incidence rate for infections and deaths.

“But ultimately, we’re still playing the game pretty closely to other people, there’s really no way around that part,” Stoughton said. “One of the things USA Ultimate has recommended is to start doing individual skills contests, so you’re not actually on somebody else. It’s not Ultimate, but it’s ultimate-like I guess.”

SPORTS CAMPS

The Capital City summer basketball camp has been a fixture at the Augusta Civic Center for more than three decades. Camp director Paul Vachon has decided he cannot run the camp safely this summer. Joe Phelan/Morning Sentinel

Many summer sports camps already have been canceled. Those that haven’t been are being modified.

Paul Vachon, the Hall of Fame retired girls’ basketball coach from Cony High, will not run a basketball camp this summer for the first time in 35 years.

“For me, I can’t see how I can do it without worrying about every single minute of the day,” he said. “We’re not going to have it, and we look to reconvene next year.”

Vachon, who retired in 2019 as Cony’s athletic director, usually gets about 150 kids to his camp, held during last week of June at the Augusta Civic Center. He made the decision to cancel about a week ago. He worried about social distancing, disinfecting every piece of equipment, and about whether players and counselors would need to wear masks. “It wouldn’t be fun for me,” he said. “And it wouldn’t be fun for the kids.”

Skowhegan’s Doughty plans on holding her field hockey camp but said she will continue to watch what guidelines are in place. “We’re going to make plans for them,” she said. “I’ll make plans, and whatever the governor says, I’ll modify.”

Thornton Academy field hockey coach Lori Smith holds a field hockey camp for students in grades 2-9 every summer but isn’t sure she can this year. She’s waiting to see if the turf field at Hill Stadium will be available – currently it’s closed to all activities – and what the state guidelines are.

“I enjoy doing it,” she said. “But if there’s any chance it’s not in the campers’ or players’ best interests, I’ll suspend it for a year. That is the way I would lean.”

Veteran baseball coach Mike D’Andrea runs the Maine Lightning, a summer travel baseball team. Out-of-state tournaments are unlikely this year, so his focus may be on individual training and positional workouts. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

D’Andrea also runs the Maine Lightning, a summer travel baseball team based out of Portland. With various quarantine policies across the New England states, traveling to out-of-state tournaments is unlikely to happen for any sport, so D’Andrea said the focus will be more local.

“I think it will be different than it has in the past. We have a goal, and that’s our customer loyalty, and we’re committed to that, with the Lightning and the program, to make sure we do that,” D’Andrea said. “It could look like individual training, team workouts, positional workouts, weekly training camps. We’ve talked about all of it and we’re not going to stop until we provide a service we feel is more than adequate.”

At the University of Southern Maine in Gorham, Athletic Director Al Bean is hoping to salvage some of his school’s summer sports camps later in the summer. The school’s campus is closed through July, he said, which is when most of the camps are held. He has begun looking at the first couple weeks in August to see “if it’s safe and acceptable to move them into that.”

While the camps normally involve overnight stays, any camps now would strictly be day camps “geared to local athletes,” he said. They would also have to follow any guidelines set forth by the Maine CDC at that time.

“Everything is an unknown,” said Bean. “We have to watch how things develop … A decision we make today might have to change in 2-3 weeks.”

In addition to lost revenue, Bean said the school’s athletic programs also lose a big recruiting tool. That’s not necessarily the case at the University of Maine in Orono. But the Black Bears have canceled all their summer camps through July 31. Any camps scheduled for August are in limbo right now.

“I just think there are still a lot of unknowns,” said women’s basketball coach Amy Vachon, who had to cancel two camps. “Our first priority is safety for everyone, the campers, our players … and until we know what’s going on and can ensure everyone’s safe, we’re not going to risk that.”

More than anything, Vachon said she will miss seeing the campers. “For us, it’s more that community spirit, that community outreach, connecting with younger girls in the community who look up to players,” she said. “It’s a fun couple of weeks.”

Maine football coach Nick Charlton said he has had two camps canceled, and one scheduled for Portland in July is on hold. “It’s just a tentative situation, like a lot of things,” he said.

LITTLE LEAGUE

Little League districts across the state are trying to figure out how to get some games in this summer. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

When the Little League World Series and its regional tournaments were canceled on Thursday, the national organization said that it’s up to local leagues to determine whether or not they can play.

And right now, leagues across the state are trying to figure out a solution. The season, which usually begins in late April, can’t start until June 1 at the earliest because of the state’s maximum limit of 10 persons at a gathering. But after June 1, the limit increases to 50, and Little League officials think they can play games then.

Bill Finley, the District 6 commissioner, said he is contacting the governor’s office for clarification on the 50-person limit. “Does that include the kids playing, or just the spectators,” he said. “We’re just hoping to allow the kids to play as much as possible. We could still host, with all the other districts in the state, if they want a state tournament, we could do one late August, early September.”

Finley said some leagues in District 6 have canceled their seasons, including Gorham. He hopes to start a Sandlot program, where players pick two teams and call their own balls and strikes, with adult supervision.

Pete Bingham, the director of the Cumberland/North Yarmouth Community Recreation Department, said not playing a state tournament could give other players more playing time.

“We’ve always had to have the local stuff done before the all-star tournaments,” he said. “Now we’re not beholden to that.”

BEYOND TEAM SPORTS

“It would be nice as things open up to see where tennis stands,” says Brian Mavor, president of the Maine Tennis Association. “We’re trying to promote tennis and do as much as we can under the guidelines.” Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Tennis suffered a blow with the cancellation of the Betty Blakeman tournament, which was to be held in conjunction with the canceled Yarmouth Clam Festival in mid-July. It had been held the previous 30 years.

Don Atkinson, the director of that tournament, said he doesn’t foresee many tournaments being played before August or September.

Brian Mavor, the volunteer president of the Maine Tennis Association, said the organization is looking for guidance from the governor’s office. The U.S. Tennis Association has suspended all sanctioned events through May 31.

“It would be nice as things open up to see where tennis stands,” said Mavor. “We’re trying to promote tennis and do as much as we can under the guidelines.”

For golfers, the state’s restrictions on playing golf only within the county a golfer resides has wiped out the Maine State Golf Association’s schedule of events in May. But area pros believe golf-focused tournaments can be held.

“If it’s predominantly about golf and you can spread out tee times, you can probably do it,” said Portland Country Club head pro Dan Venezio. “The events with a lot of things that go on around the tournament, shotgun starts, dinner parties, those will be eliminated or severely modified.”

The Maine running community has already seen several of its biggest races canceled, including the Maine Coast Marathon and Half Marathon, the Portland Sea Dogs Mother’s Day 5K, the Sugarloaf Marathon and 15K, the Old Port Half Marathon and 5K, and the Beach to Beacon 10K. This week, it was announced that the Back Cove Series won’t be held this year. The series consists of 5K races each Wednesday evening from Memorial Day to Labor Day and draws a pack of about 250 runners each week. Money raised by the races goes to Portland Trails.

John Rogers, the owner of Fleet Feet Maine Running, said it was a difficult but necessary decision.

“It’s probably our most cherished grassroots event that we put on,” he said, noting that they get about 600 runners registered each year. “I think it’s one of the things the running community looks forward to.”

But the limits on public gatherings would not allow the races to be held.

“We thought, we could do it in waves, we could do this or that,” said Rogers. “The most important thing is for the running and walking community to properly socially distance while out there. Running and walking are important to help us cope. Race events are just not possible to run by the CDC guidelines.”

Rogers said any runner who would like his or her registration fee donated to Portland Trails will get a free entry in 2021. Refunds also can be requested.

COMMUNITY DAY CAMPS

Community recreation departments are likely to take a different approach for summer day camps this year. There will be fewer, if any, field trips, with the focus on local activities. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Local recreation departments are also gearing up for their summer day camps, though they all note that they will have a different look.

There will be fewer, if any, field trips, with the focus on local activities.

The Saco Parks and Recreation Department offers a day camp to children in grades K-8. Last year, they averaged 315 children a day. Director Ryan Sommer said he thinks the rec department can accommodate about 250 children this year, depending on the guidelines set forth by the Maine CDC.

“The activities and games will be different than what we’re used to do, it will truly be an onsite camp,” said Sommer, who hopes to open camp July 6. “It’ll be different than years past when we’d go to parks like Funtown and Aquaboggan and other trips. We want to make sure we’ll be as safe as possible.”

Saco offers four camps, based on the ages of the children, plus a theater camp. Sommer said his staff is being instructed on how to make sure everything is safe, with constant disinfecting of all hard surfaces. And he said the city purchased several exterior portable hand sinks so campers and counselors can wash their hands frequently.

“We’re trying to take every step possible to ensure the safety and well being and health of the kids, as well as our staff,” he said. “A group leaves one area, the staff is going to come in and spray it down to make it clean again.”

Bingham, the rec director in Cumberland, plans to roll out a modified version of day camp. “We’re going to go back to basics and run activity-based programs,” he said.

He said the program offers camps to children in grades K-8 at three different sites. Last year, there were about 200 campers per day. He plans to open on June 29.

“We’re going to try to get creative in times like this,” he said. “Is it Water Country? Is it Aquaboggan? No. But the social interaction is going to be so huge for the kids, and even our staff.”

In Old Orchard Beach, Parks and Recreation director Jason Webber said he is trying to create a safe environment for everyone at the day camp, which he hopes to open the first week of July.

“I think we’re going to be able to create a fun summer for the kids because of the fact they’ve been indoors so long and haven’t had interaction,” he said. “Our biggest concern is safety for the staff and kids.”


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