High school winter sports teams in Cumberland County – such as the Portland/Deering cooperative girls’ hockey team – had been able to take part in individual skills and conditioning workouts until Friday. Now they’ll be restricted from meeting in person through at least the end of 2020. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

There will be no high school sports in Cumberland County this holiday season.

On Friday, Cumberland County received a “yellow” designation from the Maine Department of Education in its color-coded system that determines the risk of community spread of the COVID-19 virus. Schools within yellow counties are unable to hold any athletic activities, with coaches limited to communicating with their players virtually, according to guidelines established by the Maine Principals’ Association and state agencies.

Cumberland joins Androscoggin, Oxford and York counties in the yellow category. Those three have been yellow since the start of winter skills and conditioning workouts at other Maine schools on Dec. 7. Oxford and York were among the counties deemed yellow for portions of the fall season. This is the first time Cumberland County has been designated yellow.

With the next update by the Maine DOE not scheduled until Dec. 31, that means high school sports in the state’s four southernmost counties are shut down through the rest of 2020. The MPA has designated Jan. 4 as the start of full team practices, with games scheduled to begin on Jan. 11.

Club teams and youth teams in yellow counties also cannot gather, according to the state’s Community Sports Guidelines.

The new designation for Cumberland County didn’t surprise anyone, given the rising case rates of COVID-19. On Friday, the state recorded 436 new cases, bringing the seven-day daily average to 449.7, up from 336.3 a week ago.

“Honestly, the last several weeks I’ve thought there was a strong potential to go to yellow,” said South Portland Athletic Director Todd Livingston. “In fact, two weeks ago I was surprised when they removed the asterisk (indicating a county is being closely monitored).

“I figured it would happen at some point. As I keep telling everyone, athletic directors make plans. We have all along had plans knowing we could get shut down. Now we need to have plans in place for when we’re given the green light. We’ll start planning for Jan. 4 and adjust accordingly if we have to.”

“It’s not something we didn’t expect,” said Portland boys’ basketball coach Joe Russo. “We were kind of hoping it would be later rather than sooner. … We were fortunate we got a couple of weeks in. Hopefully it won’t last long, but I can’t say I’m surprised.”

Most Cumberland County teams had scheduled at least three in-person workout sessions each of the next two weeks. Now, all instruction has to be done virtually. The important thing, said Scarborough boys’ basketball coach Phil Conley, is to stay connected. He and his team have set up a Google classroom to meet virtually.

“We’ll talk about things like skill work and conditioning, ways they can condition on their own, and maybe show some film work, to keep them involved,” he said. “I think it’s so important that when we shut down like this, we connect with our players.”

“The biggest thing is that the basketball players don’t feel isolated and we’re doing things as a team,” said Gorham girls’ basketball coach Laughn Berthiaume. “This is something we need.

With the shutdown, Cape Elizabeth boys’ hockey coach Jake Rutt is concerned about his players’ mental health.

The Capers had been skating for two weeks and Rutt said he received many notes from his players’ parents about how the players were happy. “Their attitudes had changed and they were looking forward to practices,” he said.

He did add that having to go to a virtual meeting will place some responsibility on his players to stay involved.

“We’ll go about our business as usual as best we can,” said Rutt. “There’ll be a lot of emphasis on the players, making sure they’re getting better on their own. If there’s a silver lining, that’s it, there will be a lot of accountability. And they have to make sure their studies are taken care of.”

No one knows when any of the counties will go green. And, no one knows if the MPA’s Jan. 4 start date for practices will hold. The rising COVID-19 case counts have everyone concerned, especially high school seniors.

Bode Meader, a 6-foot-3 senior guard at Gorham, missed the first week of skills workouts because he was in quarantine after being in a class with a student who tested positive for COVID-19. Getting the news Friday that the team couldn’t work out was, he said, “pretty devastating.”

And, he said, it is difficult to stay hopeful seeing the rise in the number of cases.

“It’s like more recently, every time we have a COVID case at school we get an email about it, and then you’re thinking, ‘OK, when are they going to cancel sports? Or, when are they going to keep us home for the rest of the year?'” he said. “You’re just worried or concerned that we’re not going to have a season.”

Staff Writer Steve Craig contributed to this story.


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