GRAY — When the 2020 fall high school sports season finally began play last Friday, most of the activities involved some COVID-19 safety-related changes to the playing rules.

In soccer, for example, slide tackling within 6 feet of another player was eliminated and corner kick rules were altered. Golf and cross country similarly had new regulations.

But field hockey? Well, the playing rules didn’t change at all because of the coronavirus pandemic – the switch to four quarters from two halves was already set – but there was one significant change to substituting players, which was never easy to begin with.

In the past, a player, or more often a group of players, would gather around the scorer’s table and call out the names of the players they were going to replace, waiting until that player heard her name called and ran off the field.

Now, teams are limited to just one player at a time at the scorer’s table. And that means sometimes you have to wait even longer if the player you’re replacing doesn’t hear you quick enough.

Take Tuesday’s game between Windham and Gray-New Gloucester – a 5-0 win for the visiting Eagles in the first game between the schools since 1997.

Twice, a Windham player waited patiently to enter the game, only to have to step aside when a second Eagles player was sent to get into the game by Coach Cory Didonato.

“They have to like, stay in line and wait,” said Didonato.

But other than that, the game is the game. Yes, players and coaches wore masks on the sidelines. And the officials wore masks as well, using hand-held electronic whistles.

The only other significant change is to the scheduling, which has been regionalized during this shortened season to limit the amount of time the teams spend on a bus. These schools are only 10 miles apart, but hadn’t played since Windham left the Western Maine Conference to join the Southwestern Maine Activities Association.

“It’s fun to see other teams that we just don’t know and going in positive and knowing that we’re lucky to even be out here,” said Gray-New Gloucester senior back Kassidy Plummer.

The Eagles controlled this one from the start against the young Patriots. Windham had a 17-1 edge in penalty corners and scored four goals in the final 5:17 of the second quarter to take control. Sophomore Hannah Heanssler had two of those goals while Elizabeth Miller and Ellie Wilson had the others. Shyler Fielding scored Windham’s final goal in the third quarter.

The score may have been higher except for the play of Gray-New Gloucester goalie Mackenzie Baston, who had 26 saves.

It was a strong showing by the Eagles, despite having no summer season, a limited preseason and no scrimmages.

“We came back with a core group of eight, nine kids who have been playing together since second, third grade,” said Didonato. “And I think what really connects them is they want to win. They don’t care about is it a normal season? Is it not a normal season? They want to win. They want to be the best they can.”

Heanssler said that even if there are no playoffs, this season means something. “We can show others and hopefully continue to play this way for the next three years. This year is about building and working together.”

It’s like that for everyone.

“As a team we all really love the sport and playing together,” said GNG’s Plummer. “That makes it worth it to all of us.”

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