BATH — In the days after determining how fall sports will continue at Morse High School, school administrators are also ironing out how to offer other non-athletic extracurricular activities — such as theater — for students this fall.

Although some clubs, including jazz band and treble choir, had to be put on hold this year, clubs such as debate team, green club and theater club have been given the green light, with a few modifications.

Morse High School typically offers 18 non-athletic clubs, which draw about 400 students, according to Principal Eric Varney, but some students are counted multiple times if they participate in multiple clubs. With a total of just over 600 students, Morse High School is the only high school in Regional School Unit 1, which serves Bath, Phippsburg, Arrowsic and Woolwich.

While the demands of various clubs differ, the Maine Principals’ Association guidelines for school sports and activities state: “Reducing exposure to respiratory droplets through physical distancing and face coverings, as well as increased hand hygiene and avoidance of shared and common touch items, remain the primary tools to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

This means students must wear a mask when social distancing isn’t possible and limit the number of people allowed in one room in accordance with Gov. Janet Mills’ executive order restricting gathering size — currently set at 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.

Varney said one challenge clubs could face this year is having the student body split into two groups that attend school on different days due to the pandemic.


“Some clubs are accustomed to meeting weekly in a room, but if we have to split the group within their own cohorts, and have the meetings outside, we’ll do that,” said Varney. “It’s really refreshing for students to get to be together again, so even if they have to wear masks and meet outside, I think they’ll adapt.”

Morse High School juniors Issac Ensel and Isabel Strelneck are both involved in the school’s downhill ski club, green club, theater club and interact club, a community service club. Both students agreed having clubs available to them for the first time since March would give them a much-needed opportunity to spend time with friends and boost their mental health.

“We’re not doing group projects and half of your friends aren’t even in school with you now, so clubs will give us a chance to do something we’re interested in,” said Ensel. “No matter what you do, clubs are a way to find people you can bond with because you have a common interest.”

“Trying a new club is a good way to figure out what you like, and making new friends will come along with that,” added Strelneck.

Varney’s reason for making clubs available as soon as possible echoed Ensel and Strelneck.

“Similar to getting our students back in school, we want students learning from one another and building the sense of community these students get just being together,” said Varney. “Clubs and athletics are at the heart of that because students can get together, share ideas and make new friends. In the last 6 months we have found how important that community-building aspect is to school.”


Despite the state’s restrictions on activities like singing and playing certain instruments, Kevin O’Leary, an English teacher and theater director at Morse High School, said he’s finding a way to keep the school’s theater club running while obeying state guidelines.

Although he said he was nervous when he heard the Maine Principals’ Association wasn’t going to allow football this fall he remembered, “my actors aren’t tackling each other.”

O’Leary set plans to produce “Our Town” this fall. The theater club will rehearse and perform the play outside and the actors will be spread across three different platforms.

“We’ll have only one actor per platform that’ll be spread 14-feet apart,” he said. “The actors that are not on stage will be in masks and they’ll keep their masks on until they enter the stage and need to speak.”

O’Leary plans to have his reinvented stage surrounded by a socially-distanced audience that will be capped at 25 people.

“‘Our Town’ will be our litmus test, and I feel very confident that we can pull it off,” O’Leary said. “When one is forced to do something radically different, amazing things can happen. Artistically, you can invent new ways of performing because of the restrictions.”


While O’Leary feels confident the theater club can put on a fall show, he’s less confident that the Maine Principals’ Association will host its annual One-Act Festival, which draws schools from across the state to perform a 40-minute play in March.

Historically, Morse has done well at the competitions and typically performs a student-written play. However, O’Leary said the nature of the days-long event doesn’t meet Gov. Janet Mills’ executive order.

“I don’t know a single sane person who would allow 600 smelly, sweaty teenagers in one building, during flu season, for a weekend and see what happens,” he said.

The New England Drama Festival was cancelled last March due to the coronavirus, according to the Maine Drama Festival’s Facebook page. No formal decision has been made on the next One-Act Festival next year.

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