Field hockey Coach Burgess LePage joins her team in a socially distanced cheer after completing their first day of coach-led conditioning and skills work at Greely High on Tuesday. Most shools in southern Maine have not had any face-to-face activities through the summer and many are still delaying until them until next week. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

It wasn’t a real practice, but at least Mike Andreasen was face-to-face – socially distanced of course – with his Greely High boys’ soccer team Tuesday afternoon.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent restrictions on gathering, from the state and then school officials, it was the first time the veteran coach had been on the field with his team since Greely lost to Yarmouth in the 2019 Class B South Regional final.

“I’ve been looking forward to this day,” Andreasen said. “It’s not like Christmas, but it is a good day.”

Greely, Yarmouth, Falmouth and Freeport were among Cumberland County schools that had their first coach-led, voluntary conditioning drills of the season on Tuesday. Under the Maine Principals’ Association’s four-phase plan for conditioning, teams have been allowed to gather since early July. But the vast majority of superintendents in Cumberland and York counties did not allow such on-campus, face-to-face interactions until now.

“It’s voluntary, and we’re starting with a one-hour voluntary conditioning thing,” Andreasen said. “It’s good to get back after not having seen the kids.  Just to see the kids’ faces. The kids are excited to be back out, as I am.”

Across the state, athletes, coaches and administrators were still waiting Tuesday to receive final word from the MPA and Gov. Janet Mills’ administration about when, how and which sports can be played this fall. That decision is expected to come on Wednesday. Yet to be answered are the status of football and volleyball, two sports that would not be able to hold competitions based on current state guidelines, but that had been previously recommended to be played by the MPA.

Several schools are still waiting to start activities until next Monday, now listed as the first day of official fall practices. That is especially true in York County, which was designated “yellow” on Friday by the Maine Department of Education, meaning schools should conduct learning in a hybrid model instead of in-person because of concerns over COVID-19 trends in the county. Most districts had already designed hybrid-learning models, but the yellow status will slow the resumption of sports.

Mike Roberge, the athletic director at Traip Academy in Kittery, said “we’re hoping for next Monday to start a conditioning week if at all possible.”

Roberge said that as long as Traip is in the yellow classification, there will be no scrimmage-type activities in practice and definitely no games. Roberge is hopeful that when the state announces its next green-yellow-red county designations, likely on Sept. 18, York County will return to green status “and hopefully we can slide into some type of competition.”

Boys’ soccer players practice ball drills Tuesday on this season’s first day of coach-led conditioning and skills work at Greely High. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Old Orchard Beach High has the same guidelines, according to a document shared by Superintendent John Suttie. When in the yellow classification, Old Orchard teams, “Will conduct practices under MPA/State recommendations and guidelines or offer our own activities if none approved by aforementioned agencies. No contests with other schools.”

Sanford High was planning on having two days of orientation-style gatherings for its athletic teams this week. Those have now been put on hold because the district has delayed the start of school for a week, because of both the yellow designation and outbreaks at the county jail and a Sanford-based church.

Sanford Athletic Director Gordie Salls is also waiting for the new guidelines for interscholastic athletics to be released.

“We’re going to go by all the guidelines that have been set forth that will get approved, hopefully by tomorrow,” Salls said. “We’ll go by what comes from DHHS, the Department of Education, the MPA – you know all the groups. We’re going to go by those guidelines strictly.”

At Biddeford High, the plan was to wait until Sept. 14 even before the yellow designation.

“Most of the SMAA schools are not doing anything except waiting for word from the MPA,” said Dennis Walton, Biddeford’s athletic director. “At the end of this week we will have informational meetings, but we won’t be practicing until next week.”

Similarly, Massabesic was waiting until Sept. 14 even before Waterboro-based RSU 57 announced Monday it was delaying the start of both in-person and remote-based learning a week until Sept. 14. An employee in the district’s transportation department tested positive for COVID-19.

One southern Maine school that has been holding regular conditioning and skills-based practices is Waynflete, a private school in Portland.

“We’re not part of that superintendent group that wanted their groups to hold off,” said Waynflete Athletic Director Ross Burdick, noting that the soccer teams and boys’ lacrosse held workouts once the MPA approved their start on July 6. Field hockey and cross country started a few weeks ago, gathering three or four times a week.

“It’s all optional and attendance has been great. They’re pretty much all here,” Burdick said. “It’s been very positive. After a long spring and the first half of the summer, everyone was excited to get together and get out on the fields. And we started with 50 minutes of just conditioning and they still came at 7 in the morning.”

But Burdick said the current situation in York County is cause for concern.

“That might impact those schools’ ability to compete and move forward so we’re probably one outbreak away from the state saying it’s just not the right time for athletics,” Burdick said, noting that at Waynflete, “we’ll keep on going and we’re kind of waiting to see if we do have contests at all.”

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