Maine Central Institute’s Gavin McArthur, right, and Hermon’s Isaac Varney, left, battle for the opening tip-off during a game in 2019. Jump balls will be replaced by a coin toss this winter as part of changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

With Cora Boothby-Akilo, a 6-foot-4 returning senior center, returning this year to the South Portland girls’ basketball team, Coach Lynne Hasson fully expected to have the first possession of every game.

Not so much now. On Friday, the Maine Principals’ Association released its COVID-19 safety guidelines for each winter sport. Among the more interesting changes in high school basketball is the elimination of the opening tip-off. Instead, the game will open with a coin flip, which will set the possession arrow for the game.

“That figures, the year we were going to get 100 percent of the jump balls, we’re not going to have it,” said Hasson, with a laugh. “I’m joking because right now, we have to take everything in stride. We just want to play. It’s going to be different, for sure.”

The Maine high school winter sports season is scheduled to begin Dec. 7 with individual skills and conditioning workouts. Team practices can start Dec. 14, and games are scheduled to begin no sooner than Jan. 11.

All sports will follow some general guidelines: athletes, official and coaches will wear masks during competition (except for swimmers and wrestlers); no fans are allowed indoors; high-fives, hand shakes and fist bumps are prohibited; and visiting teams should come ready to compete and everyone should have his or her own water bottle.

Another change for basketball is that teams will play a 12-game schedule instead of the typical 18 games, with an emphasis on regional opponents. Other changes include: every timeout will be 60 seconds, a coin toss will be used to start overtime, game balls will be sanitized during every timeout and quarter break, and teams will have to remain in the bench area during halftime.

Beyond the elimination of the opening tip, that halftime guideline could be significant.

“That’s certainly going to change some of the halftime speeches, I think,” said Brunswick boys’ basketball coach Todd Hanson. “With no fans (in the stands), both coaches will probably hear what the other coach is saying, especially in smaller gyms.”

Coaches did like the extension of all timeouts to 60 seconds, since that will allow the athletes to take off their masks – and replace them if needed – and get a drink.

“It’s a year of adjustment,” said Ryan Deschenes, the boys’ basketball coach at Gray-New Gloucester. “The biggest thing is we have a chance and we have a window. Everyone is happy with the modifications. It doesn’t change the integrity of the game.”

• In competitive cheering, pyramids will not be allowed and tosses will be limited to pods and one or two in a routine. Vocal routines will not be allowed in practices, on sidelines or during competition.

• In hockey, the focus was on maintaining physical distancing in the benches and penalty boxes and during any conferences with officials. Hockey teams also will play 12-game schedules.

• In Alpine skiing, spectators are allowed in accordance with the state’s mass gathering guidelines. The finish zone should be widened to promote physical distancing.

• In Nordic skiing, mass starts have been eliminated and interval starts are encouraged. If using a wave start, no more than five skiers are allowed. The finish zone should be widened and fans will be allowed.

• Swimmers should report to their events when called and not wait behind the blocks. Athletes must wear face masks unless they are in the water.

• In indoor track, gloves may be worn during relay events and schools can bring their own batons. Any running events longer than 800 meters are considered moderate risk. It is recommended that only runners from the same school should be running at the same time in those races. Otherwise, if runners from multiple schools are competing, they must stay in their lane the entire race.


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