Coach Dawn Armandi, right, in black T-shirt, addresses the Falmouth girls’ basketball team on Monday before their first team workout of the winter season at Falmouth High. Mike Lowe photo

FALMOUTH — Dawn Armandi gathered the 12 members of her Falmouth High girls’ basketball team in a circle and welcomed them to an unprecedented high school season on Monday.

She spoke to them about wearing masks throughout the team workouts, taking them off only for short water breaks, and to make sure they didn’t share any personal items. And she stressed physical distancing.

“The rule of thumb,” she said, “is if you can stretch your arms out and touch the person next to you, you’re not six feet apart.”

It was the first day of the individual skills and conditioning workouts allowed by the Maine Principals’ Association and winter sports teams across the state got together for the first time since last February and March, just before the coronavirus pandemic shut down all sports.

Of course, not all schools participated the individual skills and drills on Monday. Four counties – Androscoggin, Oxford, Somerset and York – received a yellow designation last Friday from the Maine Department of Education in its color-coded system that determines the risk of community spread of the COVID-19. Any schools within those counties are unable to hold any athletic activities, with coaches limited to communicating with their players virtually.

And not all sports got underway. Many athletic directors noted that swimming and track – two winter sports facing a facilities crunch because colleges are not allowing outside groups to use their tracks and rinks right now – will start later, perhaps next week. Some ski programs will wait a week as well.

But for those sports that did return, it was a remarkable day. With COVID-19 cases surging across Maine, many did not expect to even be able to begin individual workouts. Team practices, which were scheduled to begin on Dec. 14, have now been delayed until Jan. 4.

But on Monday, all that seemed to matter was working on skills. For the Falmouth girls, that meant dribbling and shooting.

“It’s nice to be back, definitely,” said senior guard Cameron Birks. “I really didn’t think we were going to have a season up until the last couple of weeks. But I don’t know even if we are going to have a season.”

For Birks, however, just being in the gym with her teammates is enough. “I just think the sense of community it brings for our team, and keeping the morale high even though COVID is bringing it down, is important,” she said.

Senior Cameron Birks leads the Falmouth girls’ basketball team in dribbling drill on Monday at Falmouth High. Mike Lowe photo

Sophomore Sloan Ginevan is grateful for whatever opportunities the team was going to be allowed.

“I’m so glad that throughout this pretty dark year, basketball was something we could lean on and we still have the opportunity to do that,” she said. “A lot of things have been taken away from us.”

Falmouth was an intriguing team last year. Coming off a two-win season, the Yachtsmen finished 12-8 last year and advanced to the Class A South semifinals, despite not having any seniors on the roster. Expectations would have been high this year but the MPA has already scuttled the postseason tournament. And, Armandi said, six players from that team decided not to return for a variety of reasons.

There are challenges for those who were on the court, especially wearing a mask during practices and games. Senior Lauren Welch, for example, started the practice with a black cloth mask but switched to a lighter disposable mask after completing the dribbling drills.

“I was just sucking it in,” said Welch. “It was too big and a little heavier.”

Welch does not plan on playing beyond high school, so she wasn’t going to miss her senior season. “I still love to be here, seeing everyone, especially since I don’t see everyone in school as much as I’d like to,” she said.

Taking a break during practice, Welch said, “We’ll see how it goes. Anything can change at any given moment.”

Some schools in green designated counties, such as South Portland and Westbrook, decided to delay the start of their practices until next Monday.

At South Portland, athletic director Todd Livingston said the school had been in remote learning until Monday and “it just didn’t make sense to do it on the first day back. So we delayed it and we’re trying to figure it out.”

Each school has established COVID-19 safety protocols for practices, including sanitizing gyms and balls between sessions and recirculating air through the gymnasium before allowing a second session to begin.

And at Waynflete, for example, the basketball teams were broken down into groups – three for the boys, two for the girls – to limit the number of people in the gym and provide proper physical distancing.

Greely High in Cumberland will not have an indoor track team this winter. Athletic Director David Shapiro said Monday that instead the school will offer a running club.

“We’ll have a meeting regarding what the running club will look like next week,” said Shapiro. “This is strictly facility driven.”

Armandi knows that being limited to just drills for at least the next four weeks may challenge some players. But she and other girls’ basketball coaches across the state are trying to make it more fun.

The have established a Facebook group and will hold challenges – how many free throws a team hit in practice, how many layups it can make during a timed drill, how fast it took to complete a conditioning drills – and post the results on Facebook.

“We’re just trying to find ways to motivate them,” said Armandi. “We’re trying to keep that competitive side going a little bit.”


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