BATH — Morse High School will offer golf, cross county, field hockey, soccer, sideline cheerleading and intra-squad seven-on-seven touch football in place of standard interscholastic tackle football this fall.

The Regional School Unit 1 board of directors unanimously voted Thursday to accept guidance for fall sports issued by the Maine Principals’ Association. The decision will affect the more than 200 Morse High School students who typically participate in fall sports, more than in any other season.

The MPA, which oversees high school athletics statewide, said it will not offer football or volleyball this fall but will proceed with all other high school sports, including golf, cross country, field hockey and soccer, the Portland Press Herald reported. Football and volleyball were singled out because football is a close-contact sport and volleyball is the only fall sport played indoors.

Other guidelines include the requirement that all athletes, coaches and spectators wear a mask, but athletes can remove masks when playing. Schools must restrict spectators to 100 people, including the teams, coaches and officials, per Mills’ executive order, and all practices must take place outdoors.

The association also announced that for schools in any counties that carry a yellow or red designation on the Department of Education’s color-coded system “there should be no practices or games held until which time they are designated green.” York County is currently designated as yellow but all other counties are green.

Nate Priest, RSU 1 athletic director, said he felt comfortable following the MPA’s guidance on fall sports because “I trust the guidance of all the health professions who have been involved in this process.”

Priest said finding a way to safely offer fall sports was important because of the sense of normalcy it gives students.

“Sports are a chance for a kid to be a kid and connect with one another on a level they might not get in a classroom,” he said. “They learn skills like teamwork, problem solving and proper nutrition, and for us to be able to offer that to them is critical to their development.”

Priest said some Morse High School sports teams have participated in conditioning practices since early July under strict restrictions, including mask wearing and social distancing.

“We saw from day one back in July that kids were very attentive to the details and we never had a problem with mask wearing,” he said. “We told them if we want a chance at having a fall season, we need to play by the rules, and students understand the gravity of the situation. They want to play and they’re willing to do what it takes to have a fall sports season.”

Several board members said they understand district families may be opposed to the board’s decision or raise questions as to why student athletes are being allowed to play a sport without a mask but are still required to wear a mask while sitting in a classroom.

“We’re not taking this lightly, and this isn’t a situation of rubber stamping the administration’s plan,” said board member Anita Brown. “It weighs heavily on me. Our administrators did so much work to make sure our students returned to a work environment that’s safe and adding some sports activities does add an extra element of risk and we don’t take that lightly.”

Nina Ryan, a Morse High School junior, said she’s relieved she’ll get to run cross country this fall because it helps her manage stress, perform well academically, and it provides a community of friends.

“I’m happier and perform better in school when I’m playing a sport,” said Ryan. “If you’re in a terrible head space, you’re not in a good mood to try harder in school. It gives me a reason to try academically.”

Ryan said cross country is the one piece of her life that she said feels hasn’t been “butchered” by the coronavirus pandemic. She said she and her teammates have been careful about wearing face masks and spreading out when necessary during conditioning practices over the summer.

“Right now we’re just really grateful to have a cross country season, but we’re going to try to do everything we can for other sports to have their seasons,” said Ryan. “If we need to wear masks on the sidelines in order for winter sports to happen, we’re going to do that.”

Priest said RSU 1 officials haven’t yet laid plans and guidance for how to handle fall sports at RSU 1’s middle school because the MPA’s only governs the state’s high schools.

“It’s important to offer those kids something as well … but there’s a lot to be determined,” he said. “We hope to offer something creative for them as well.”

Further guidance on all fall sports Morse High School will offer are available on the school’s website and Facebook page.

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