There are no guarantees, and no way to altogether eliminate risk, but it looks like Maine could pull off a fall high school sports season for most student-athletes in most sports.

Months after the spring season was canceled, along with just about everything else, it’s time to play ball.

The final decision on which high school sports will be allowed to take the field this fall is expected this week from the Maine Principals’ Association; individual schools can then decide if they want to participate. Whatever they choose, it won’t be an easy decision.

Very little is known about how well the coronavirus spreads among student-athletes engaged in competition. It’s impossible to know now whether reopening schools will contribute to a fall surge in cases, or whether holding games will make it worse.

And it’s anybody’s guess how to weigh those risks against what it would mean to cancel another high school sports season, particularly now after students have been away from their friends and normal routines for so long.

The uncertainty is apparent in the wide variety of ways states are approaching the fall high school sports season. Some are going forward as usual. Others are moving sports considered high risk for spreading the virus to a later season.

Massachusetts has created a fourth season, to be played between Feb. 22 and April 25, for football as well as any other sport that finds its usual season disrupted by COVID-19. One conference there voted Tuesday to move all of its fall sports to the “floating” season.

There was uncertainty in Maine, too, as school officials were given differing guidelines from two state agencies, one more stringent than the other.

The latest guidelines place soccer along with football in the “high risk” category, seemingly ending hopes for seasons in either sport. The MPA says it has been seeking more information on exactly what the guidelines allow, and plans to make a final announcement on the fall season by Thursday.

The MPA could follow in Massachusetts’ steps and move soccer into the “moderate risk” category along with field hockey, girls volleyball and swimming. Cross country and golf, also offered in the fall, are considered low risk.

It looks like football cannot be played safely this fall. Moving it until later in the year brings up a number of logistical problems. Perhaps schools and coaches can find a way to keep the teams together and engaged in some way this fall.

But with Maine’s low case volume and the right guidelines in place — if precautions can be taken and any cases quickly identified and tracked — the other sports should move forward this season. There’s evidence it can be done safely.

This summer, high schools in Iowa held their softball and baseball seasons, with roughly 25 of the 338 baseball teams affected by COVID-19 exposures or infections. Throughout Maine, club leagues in a number of sports played all summer without causing an outbreak.

It’s a risk, but a small one, and one worth taking for the social and emotional well-being of student-athletes, as long as fans, players and coaches follow safety guidelines on hygiene, physical distancing and face coverings — at games and in the rest of their activities, so one infection doesn’t lead to dozens.

It’s worth noting, too, that cancelling the fall season wouldn’t end the risk — students who could afford it would simply go play in private leagues. There would still be games, but many students would be left.

Of course, all players, coaches and parents should be ready for a team to be shut down if it comes anywhere near an outbreak. Maine should give the fall season a shot, but as Marcia Wood, field hockey coach in Freeport, told the Press Herald, the virus may have other plans.

“Right now, we don’t even know what we’re preparing for,” she said. “The (postseason) tournament? Are we doing that? Do we even get that far? So maybe instead of competition, we should focus on just being together. I want them to enjoy every second, because, who knows?”


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