AUGUSTA  — Max Clark spoke briefly, but with passion. The rising junior at Bangor High School wants to play football this fall, and he wants to let the entire state of Maine know it.

“This is more than just sports for us,” Clark said. “This is mental health. If we can do it safely, we should be out there.”

Clark spoke Thursday afternoon at Capitol Park, in front of approximately two dozen people who attended a Let Us Play rally in support of the return of high school sports this fall.

Thursday’s rally, which lasted just under an hour, was organized by Kristie Miner, an independent candidate for the State Senate in District 9, which covers Bangor and Hermon.

“I felt like it was a good time, an opportunity to actually hear the voices of the kids. I don’t think they’ve been able to adequately voice what sports mean to them,” said Miner, a speech language pathologist. “As a parent and somebody that works in health care, I understand concerns people have around health, but I’m looking at the data and I feel like families should have the opportunity to make that decision for their own kids. Because for some kids, mental health might be more of an issue.”

The rally came after a frantic few days for Maine high school athletes. Tuesday, the Maine Principals’ Association said no decision about the fall season has been made, as the organization looked for guidance from the Department of Education. Wednesday, some of that guidance came in the form of community sports guidelines from the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. Those guidelines place football and soccer in the “high risk” category of sports, and recommend no games or intrasquad scrimmages for either sport.

Miner said her two sons, Elijah and Isaac Hoshide, play on teams in the Bangor school system.

“They’re anxious to get back. Since the lockdown began, my 15-year-old (Elijah) has been doing two- and three-time-a-day workouts with the goal of, ‘I’m going to be ready when things get started.’ I’ve been very impressed and grateful he’s had that motivation, but if you then aren’t rewarded for all that hard work, it’s hard to continue that motivation,” Miner said.

Jen Michaud of Manchester attended the rally with her 15-year-old twin daughters, Alissa and Alexis, who will be sophomores at Maranacook. The sisters hope to play soccer for the Black Bears. They and their friends are anxiously awaiting the MPA’s decision.

“It’s stressful, very stressful,” Alexis Michaud said.

“They played travel softball all summer and we haven’t had any issues (relating to the coronavirus),” Jen Michaud said. “They missed their spring season. To do that again to them this fall would be awful. (Sports) keeps them going for educational issues, too. They strive for good grades to play sports.”

Most in attendance wore a mask and followed social distancing guidelines. Miner set up a table with hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Hanging from the table was the web address for the MPA, and the MPA’s phone number. Miner urged people to call the MPA and respectfully thank them for the work they do for high school sports. Miner said she called MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham and invited him to the rally, but Burnham graciously declined, saying he’s busy working to resolve the issue.

Jim Libby, a former state senator and basketball coach who is now an economics professor at Thomas College and Colby College, spoke on the importance of athletics to the overall academic experience. Libby stressed that the risk matrix used in categorizing football and soccer as “high risk sports” needs to be updated.

“What we’re really asking the Maine Principals’ Association to do is put a little pressure on the State of Maine to update the risk matrix,” Libby said. “I expect if we have fall sports, we’ll use protocols. It will look a lot different. It’s going to require a lot of changes in behavior … I believe it’s safe to say let them play, and we should let them play.”

Elizabeth Shardlow of Monmouth said her middle school aged children are frustrated by the lack of sports, and hope they’re able to play football this fall.

“There are greater risks to children from not participating in sports than COVID-19. Their mental health is at stake,” Shardlow said.

Burnham said the MPA is working to make a decision by August 27.


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