Volleyball is the only high school sports in Maine played indoors during the fall. Players would be required to face masks during matches if the Maine Principals’ Association clears the sport to be played. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

If high school sports are to return this fall in Maine, they will do so with COVID-19 safety modifications recommended Wednesday by the Maine Prinicipals’ Association’s Sports Medicine Committee.

The most striking changes might be in volleyball, where players would be required to wear face masks during matches. It’s the only sport played indoors in the fall, and the only sport in which participants would need to wear masks during action. Also, volleyball teams will not swap benches during a match as they have in the past.

Larry Nichols, the volleyball coach at Falmouth High, is all for the masks.

“I don’t think it’s an issue, when you think about kids blocking and playing close to the net,” he said. “If I was the parent of a player, and I am, I wouldn’t want my daughter to play without a mask. I wouldn’t want her to play a team that didn’t have a mask.”

Other coaches, however, were surprised by the decision.

“I can’t imagine exercising in a mask,” said Cape Elizabeth volleyball Coach Sarah Boeckel. “I was in a meeting yesterday for an hour and it was not a good feeling, and that’s sitting down. I understand they’re needed and I wear one and the players will wear them if required. But I didn’t think it would be an option.”

“We would wear anything if they told us we had a chance to play,” said Yarmouth Coach Jim Senecal. “But I’m surprised they came up with that recommendation while playing. I guess we’ll just have to condition ourselves to get used to them and make it work. There probably will be some who ask for a medical exemption.”

On Thursday, the MPA’s Interscholastic Management Committee will decide whether high school sports will be played this fall. Here are safety modifications that would take effect in other sports:

• In football, the team box on the sidelines will be extended to the 10-yard line in both directions to allow social distancing among the players. A set of three to four balls must be kept on each sideline to allow frequent sanitizing and disinfecting. One important piece is that the preseason for football has been extended to three weeks. While other sports could begin their games on Sept. 18, football games would not begin until Sept. 25.

Fred Lower, the athletic director at Hampden Academy and chair of the MPA’s Football Committee, said having the three-week preseason would allow the players, who have not been able to work out together all summer, to get in shape, but also give the MPA “three weeks to evaluate where we’re at.”

• In soccer, sliding tackles would be eliminated, and teams will only be able to place five offensive players and five defensive players (besides the goalkeeper) in the penalty box area for corner kicks and throw-ins. There was a discussion to eliminate corner kicks but, said Heinz, “we don’t want to inherently change the sport. And if we take away corner kicks, we will change the sport.”

• In field hockey, only one player from a team can be substituted into the game at a time (to maintain social distance) and the penalty box chair has been eliminated. Instead a player who has been asked to sit out for a flagrant penalty will take a knee in a social-distanced area. In addition, a referee can remove a player from the game if he or she sees that player removing her mouthpiece. The player can return after the mouth guard is sanitized.

• In cross country, staggered starts are likely, with each school maintaining 3-to-6 feet of distance between them at the start. In addition, the finish line will change, with runners expected to quickly leave the area and return to their designated team area. For runners who need help after the finish if they collapse at the end of their run, help is expected to be available to move them. Runners must wear a mask into the starting area, either disposable or one that they can carry and put on when the race is finished.

• Golf will follow the same guidelines established by the Maine State Golf Association and used throughout the summer. Players will not touch the flag, and rakes in sand traps will not be used.

– Staff writer Deirdre Fleming contributed to this report.

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