Mike Andreasen, who coaches boys’ soccer at Greely High and girls’ basketball at Gray-New Gloucester, says that giving up all forms of summer workouts and competition will be worth it if it means sports teams are safely able to return to action in the fall. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

After months of being shut down by the coronavirus pandemic, some high school sports are about to get back onto the field, if only for workouts. And the Maine Principals’ Association wants to proceed slowly.

The MPA, which oversees high school athletics in Maine, released its guidelines for summer workouts Thursday, with a strong emphasis on safety and conditioning. Based on recommendations from its Sports Medicine Committee, the MPA has established two two-week phases in July, with no full team practices or competitions.

Currently, coaches can only interact with their athletes remotely.

“We have a real concern about deconditioning,” said Dr. William Heinz, chair of the MPA’s Sports Medicine Committee. “These kids haven’t been doing organized sports since the first of March. One of our big fears is that they jump right in and that results in a lot of overuse injuries … We want coaches to be very aware of that and go slow.”

Phase 1 will begin July 6 and end July 19. Phase 2 will run from July 20 to Aug. 2. Any recommendations beyond that will be developed throughout the summer.

Not all schools will be able to participate in the July workouts. School superintendents in Cumberland and York counties – including the Southwestern Maine Activities Association and the Western Maine Conference – have agreed to have no in-person interactions between coaches and athletes until Aug. 3. Coaches can still conduct virtual workouts.

Old Orchard Beach Superintendent John Suttie, a former high school football coach, said he knows that coaches want to get back to working with their athletes. But he said the York County superintendents had to look beyond the value of athletics. For them, the priority is keeping students and staff safe and doing everything they can to maximize the chance of school’s reopening in the fall.

“I know (coaches) want the world to go back to normal, and so do I, but people have to understand, the accountable parties here are the superintendents and the decision makers are superintendents, and we have to decide when we dare to try to make it safe for everyone,” Suttie said. “We know it’s different in every county. Where we are in York County … we just felt like for us, it’s the best course of action to wait until Aug. 3, and then we’ll see.”

Athletic directors in the SMAA, home to the largest schools in Cumberland and York counties, voted unanimously Thursday morning to follow the superintendents’ lead.

Windham High Athletic Director Rich Drummond said coaches understandably are disappointed. But, he said, “At the same time, we haven’t been in school since March 13, and I think the primary concern is getting schools back up and open. That is really paramount for the start of athletics.”

And coaches seem to understand. Mike Andreasen, who coaches boys’ soccer at Greely High in Cumberland and girls’ basketball at Gray-New Gloucester, said “I would give the whole summer up if I knew on Aug. 17 we could come back and start our tryouts. We’ve got to be patient.”

Those who are able to work out with their teams will do so with strict guidelines.

Everyone involved should undergo a health screening even before arriving at the field. Those who feel sick should stay home. Coaches will be required to take attendance at every workout – an important tracing step should someone test positive for COVID-19.

Disinfectants and hand sanitizers should be available. Locker rooms and shower facilities will be closed.

Athletes will not be required to wear masks during “high intensity aerobic workouts,” but coaches, athletes and officials should wear masks “when appropriate to minimize the exposure to respiratory droplets,” according to the MPA guidelines.

The virus that causes COVID-19 is spread primarily through respiratory droplets between people in close proximity, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

In Phase 1, which will take place only outdoors, athletes will be separated into pods of 10 or less for workouts in order to maintain proper social distance. They must remain in the same pod throughout.

Workouts will be limited to one hour and should not involve any sport-specific activity or equipment, concentrating on conditioning, agility and strength training.

In Phase 2, many of the same safety protocols must be followed. But indoor workouts will be allowed, for a maximum of 10 individuals in a pod. Outdoor workouts can include up to 50 individuals.

Workouts can last up to two hours and include sport-specific drills designed to provide individual skill development. But no form of competition, including 1-on-1 drills, will be allowed.

“Our feeling is that as soon as you give a ball to two high school players, there’s going to be competition,” said Heinz, the former chair of the National Federation of State High School Association’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. “We want to be very careful about that.”

Winslow boys’ soccer coach Aron Wolfe said he’ll need to be creative with his groups.

“It’s strategic,” he said. “The groups of kids have to stick together in their groups, so knowing who should be working with whom is important. We’ll have to get very strategic with our workouts.”

The MPA also suggests that each school create a COVID-19 Response Team “to help identify and implement policies and procedures for safe return-to-school and sport activities.”

Heinz said that is an important step, needed to help track potential infections should someone test positive for COVID-19.

“It’s going to take a whole team to be able to track people down once you realize someone is a positive, who they’ve been in close contact with,” he said. “We’re trying to protect those kids and their families who have been potentially infected.”

MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham said the committee put in long hours to come up with the guidelines. “This is a health and safety issue,” he said. “And we also are very cognizant that it’s crucial that we align with what’s coming out of  the state government and Department of Education.”

Geoff Godo, the athletic director at Mt. Ararat High in Topsham, said the guidelines “give us a pathway to connection … It’s definitely a step forward.”

His field hockey coach, Krista Chase, said she’s ready to see her athletes face-to-face again.

“I’m pleasantly surprised because my biggest fear was that they were going to shut down sports,” she said. “I am ready to go with what the MPA has set forth, provided my district gives us the go-ahead.”

Other conferences have refrained from a collective decision regarding their schools’ facilities. The Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference is letting its member schools decide for themselves when to open facilities while working within the MPA’s parameters.

“It is community by community, district by district, making the decisions for what’s best for them,” said KVAC President KJ Anastasio, the athletic director at Lincoln Academy. “With July 6 being the first date, we really have not a lot of time between now and then. So we’re all trying to dig in to figure out what’s best for us, but see what other schools are doing.”

The Mountain Valley Conference isn’t trending toward a group directive either, Monmouth Academy Athletic Director Wade Morrill said.

“I can see schools in our conference deciding not to open up for July, but no one’s doing that type of unilateral decision like what you saw in the SMAA,” he said. “But I also believe that’s because the prevalence of cases in York and Cumberland County is much different than (in central Maine).”

Gordie Salls, the athletic director at Sanford and a member of the MPA’s Sports Medicine Committee, said it’s important to remember the goal of the guidelines.

“It’s important to note we are education-based athletics,” he said. “Based on that, we are trying to start school on time and doing the things necessary to do that. If we don’t start school on time, it will impact the fall sports season.”

Heinz said guidelines for Phases 3 and 4 will be determined later.

“Until we know what fall sports will look like, we can’t put it together,” he said. “It could be the first of August, but my suspicion is it will be later.”

Steve Craig, Drew Bonifant and Bill Stewart contributed to this story.

 

 

 


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