Players take part in a club basketball game at XL Sports World in Saco in June. All games are now on hold until mid-January. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Top administrators for club sports organizations in Maine expressed frustration Friday over being told that they must halt their activities to align with the state’s revised Community Sports Guidelines.

Lenny Holmes, the director of Maine Hoops, would have liked a little advance warning.

“I did not think they would go to this extreme where they would put out new guidelines on a Friday and not give us a week to get ourselves together,” said Holmes, whose organization oversees most of the club basketball tournaments in Maine.

Andrew Pelletier, the director of operations of Seacoast United Maine, wishes youth sports organizers could have had a voice in the decision.

“There’s a lot of smart people in these sports organizations around the state and I haven’t been a part of any conversations with the state and we’re the largest soccer club in Maine,” Pelletier said. “I would love to just get some reasoning and some ideas of what’s happening ahead of time, rather than finding out through the news, but that is what it is and we’ll see what happens.”

Mike Keaney, president of the Maine Amateur Hockey Association, says his organization has complied with the state’s guidelines.

“We wish quite honestly we’d had a little more opportunity to have some input,” Keaney said. “We were in compliance up until this point and we’ll continue to be in compliance, but what that means essentially is we have to shut down youth hockey for two months to be in compliance.”

According to the guidelines updated on Friday, team practices are to be halted for moderate-risk sports such as hockey, basketball and soccer until Dec. 14, with games allowed on or after Jan. 11, pending further review expected around Jan. 1.

Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, made it clear the updated guidelines apply to club sports.

“The short answer is, yes,” Lambrew said when asked if club organizations currently holding games should halt activities.

Holmes said he has postponed this weekend’s scheduled games and did not have any further activity in southern Maine scheduled until Dec. 4. Pelletier said he would need to meet with his Seacoast United management team before making any final decisions on what his club can offer. Keaney said all practices and games involving leagues in his hockey association have been suspended.

Club programs in many sports have been operating throughout the state since the summer months.

Lambrew said a primary goal of updating the guidelines was to make them consistent for club and school sports.

“There’s a lot to be said for uniformity. It’s a hard sell to tell kids they can’t play for their school, but they’re out playing for a travel team,” said Dean Plante, athletic director and girls’ basketball coach at Old Orchard Beach.

“I’m torn. As a high school coach, you want your kids to play AAU. But you don’t want AAU to ruin your high school season,” said John Trull, the boys’ basketball coach at Bonny Eagle.

Essentially, club sports now will be expected to operate as high school sports did this fall: viewing the guidelines as requirements – not recommendations, as they previously were called – and halting activities in counties determined to be in the “yellow” category, meaning an increased risk of virus spread, by the Maine Department of Education. Four of Maine’s 16 counties – Knox, Somerset, Franklin and Washington – are currently designated yellow.

“Organizers of community sports should suspend competitions and group practices in counties categorized as ‘Yellow,'” the updated guidelines state.

Another change actually could benefit the perception of how club sports are operating. Previously, the guidelines recommended moderate-risk sports not be played indoors. Now they are allowed to play games indoors starting Jan. 11, with athletes, coaches and officials wearing face masks at all times.

“I think we have always completely tried to follow the community sports guidelines,” said Holmes, the director of Maine Hoops. “That’s what we’ve done and I think that’s why we’ve been successful in terms of zero cases of spread in the 1,500 games we’ve run since June. We want to do things the right way. I think there’s a complete misconception by some that we’re a nefarious group trying to jump through loopholes. We have followed the guidelines and have never not laid our plans out to the state.”

“We have thousands of youth hockey players impacted,” Keaney said. “We want to protect them, but we also know shutting them down has an impact on their well-being as well. I’m a volunteer. I don’t get paid for this. But we have rink partners and people that sell gear and equipment that depend on the sport of hockey for their living and they’re going to be impacted as well.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe contributed to this story.

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