Waterville’s Spencer Minihan (11) runs after catching a pass in front of Winslow’s Jack Dorval (41) during a flag football game last October in Winslow. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

When the Maine Principals’ Association announced Wednesday that it would once again offer all sports, Winslow junior wrestler Sam Schmitt knew the perfect way to celebrate.

He reached out to teammate Jack Dorval and invited him over for a practice.

“I have a small mat at my house, so I texted him right away,” Schmitt said. “We were pretty excited.”

In the wake of the state removing its community sports guidelines, the MPA announced that all sports were going to able to proceed this season. The announcement was pivotal for football and wrestling, which were deemed “high risk” by the guidelines and were therefore unapproved for competition.

Now, athletes in both sports who were bracing for another summer of uncertainty have their answer. And it’s the one they wanted to hear.

“For me, it was just pure relief,” said Cony junior Casey Mills, who is both a tight end and defensive end on the football team and a state champion 182-pounder on the wrestling team. “A lot of kids were worried that we were going to put in the work this summer and then kind of have the same thing happen to us again this fall and this winter, where you spend hours and hours in the weight room and training with your guys on the field doing 7-on-7 … for nothing at the end.”

Football and wrestling were drastically restricted in the 2020-21 season. Football was limited to only 7-on-7 or flag games, as the contact version of the sport was deemed too risky as the pandemic lingered in the state.

“It was really relief, (a weight) off our shoulders,” Gardiner junior tight end and defensive back Ryan Banister said. “The whole time it’s been a cloud over our heads, whether we’re going to have a season or not. I’ve been working really hard, I know a lot of other guys have been working really hard, so it’s good to know all of our efforts aren’t really in vain.”

Wrestlers had the same reaction.

Cony’s Casey Mills gets a hold of Oxford Hills wrestler Dillon Worster during a 182-pound match at the Class A wrestling championship at Sanford High School. Mills defeated Worster 3-2. Portland Press Herald file photo Buy this Photo

“My teammates (and I) were messaging, we were pretty happy about it,” said Mt. Ararat/Brunswick junior Spencer LeClair, who last wrestled at 138 pounds. “I’m just happy that we’re allowed to wrestle in my senior season. It’s going to be something great.”

While football had a different form of competition, wrestling had none at all. Teams were limited to practices that were essentially just conditioning work.

“It was hard. I worked out for the first while, and then I didn’t know if I was working out for anything or (had) anything to look forward to,” said Skowhegan sophomore Aiden Clark, a 120-pound finalist in Class A his freshman season. “I’d get down in those low areas. Wrestling is my life, I’ve been doing it for about 12 years now.”

With Wednesday’s news, Clark said, the work now has a point to it. Even with the winter still a long ways off, he said the status of the season was weighing on him.

“I’ve been doing as much as I can to stay in shape. I’ve been gaining weight and trying to keep it, muscle-wise,” he said. “It was definitely on my mind a lot, especially using it as motivation for working out and keeping myself going.”

Even as their optimism grew with the easing of mask mandates and availability of vaccines, wrestlers still found it hard to shed those lingering doubts until Wednesday’s news broke.

“It was pretty much on my mind all the time, the last couple of months especially,” said Schmitt, who has wrestled nearly every week since junior high. “The indoors piece, I was still kind of unsure. But signs were definitely leading to it happening.”

LeClair said he, too, was optimistic, but enjoyed the peace of mind the announcement brought.

Nokomis’ Isaiah M. Morin, left, wrestles with Mt. Ararat/Brunswick’s Spencer LeClair in a 138-pound match at the KVAC wrestling championship on Feb. 1 1, 2020 at Cony High School in Augusta. Leclair won the match. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“It’s very nice to know for sure that it’s going to (happen),” he said. “It’s good to not have mystery whether it’s going to happen or not.”

Like Clark, LeClair said last year tested his motivation. He said that won’t be an issue this summer.

“It’s a weight off my shoulders. … Last year I was pretty anxious and iffy,” he said. “Last year I knew that there wasn’t going to be a season, so I actually took a lot of time off from training, to kind of rest my body. But this year, knowing that there’s going to be a season, I’m definitely going to put in a lot more work.”

The same can be said for Cony’s Mills, who was taking an AP language exam when the news broke. He was standing in front of the weight room when he got the headline.

“When I heard that we were having sports back, I was in that hallway and I saw the weight room and I was starting to dream a little bit about what this summer and fall’s going to look like,” he said. “Nothing beats football. I love spring sports, but when can summer start?”

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