Biddeford’s Waterhouse Field is ready to host athletics if provided the opportunity from the Maine Principals’ Association. It remains to be seen if fields this fall will be filled with athletes and spectators, or if they will lie dormant, due to health concerns surrounding COVID-19. Courtesy photo/Dennis Walton

BIDDEFORD — Dennis Walton wants the fall sports season to occur. Athletic administratorsacross southern Maine want the season to happen. Stakeholders in the Maine Principals’Association want the season to commence. The question is: can it be done safely?

Walton, the Biddeford High School athletic director, and other local athletic administrators, are wrestling with this question as the MPA delayed their decision on whether or not fall sports will be sanctioned in Maine until Aug. 27 due to issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. At stake for local AD’s and superintendents is a balancing act of sponsoring fall sports whilemeeting the community sports guidelines set forth by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. These guidelines are different from the Maine Department of Education’s return-to-school guidelines, which are considered more stringent.

In July, the MPA moved the official start of the fall athletic season to Sept. 8, a date which has not been adjusted by the decision of the Southwestern Maine Activities Association to cancel Phase IV training for fall sports teams, which were set to commence on Aug. 24. Now, the start of the school year for many high schools across southern Maine will coincide with the
possible start of the fall sports season.

The top priority for the SMAA and MPA is having students return to school safely without an outbreak of COVID-19 caused by summer training. “We’re not going to risk an outbreak on our campuses before the first day of school,” said Walton. “It would also not be prudent to take that risk (participating in Phase IV training in-person) when we haven’t even made a decision yet on whether we are going to play or not.”

“We will take anything that resembles a fall season, whatever that may look like,” said Walton. “Whether that’s half of a season, if there’s a postseason, or if it ends up we can’t do that, then we’ll have to live with that. I think there’s a lot of flexibility because everyone is on the same page. Give us something. My soccer coach said it best: ‘We’ll play the same team five times and we’ll be perfectly okay with it.’”

One option on the table for the MPA is moving sports deemed “high risk” by the community sports guidelines to another season. Football and boys and girls soccer have been labeled as such, with the suggestion that they are not played under the current guidelines provided to the MPA. Gary Stevens, the athletic director at Thornton Academy in Saco, suggested that the shift of “high risk” sports to another period in the school year is something that has been discussed recently at the MPA level. “If there is an activity we can’t offer this fall, the question is what do we do with that: do we move it to another season, or find another alternative to be able to provide that activity?” said Stevens. “The MPA committees are wrestling with that as we speak.”


If the fall sports season does commence on Sept. 8, the start date for official contests will most likely be shifted. Currently, countable games may begin on Sept. 18, but with the cancelation of Phase IV in-person training at York and Cumberland county schools, the more likely option is delaying countable contests to Sept. 25.

The first week of the season could be modified to reflect a condensed version of the Phase IV training, according to Dean Plante, the athletic director and varsity football coach at Old Orchard Beach High School. “Most schools will use that first week, and it may even be mandatory, to prepare for the season,” said Plante.

Even with the delays to training and the official start of fall sports in York and Cumberland counties, area schools are ready to begin their seasons if given the opportunity. “We’ve been ready to roll since July sixth,” said Plante. “I’m very confident — I have a great group of veteran coaches, I have a supportive administration, and I’m local and willing to put in all the extra time needed. We’re ready to roll.”

“We were ready to go on Monday, Aug. 24th, but that didn’t work out, and that’s okay,” said Walton. “Come Sept. eighth, they’ll be ready to go. I’m very, very happy with my coaches, I’m happy with how they’ve handled this. It’s frustrating, but they’ve stayed positive.”

All three athletic directors at TA, OOB, and BHS were quick to recognize the competitive spirit and hard work their athletes are putting into their training on their own, and realize how hard this is for them and their families. The AD’s also recognized the amount of energy being put in by AD’s, coaches, principals, superintendents, the MPA, and state officials to try and salvage the fall sports season. “I think everyone is working in the best interests (of the community) and
we’re hoping to provide the best possible situation for our kids,” said Plante.

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