Bonny Eagle’s Julia Pendleton competes in the long jump Tuesday during an indoor track meet at the University of Southern Maine. USM prohibits the use of spikes during regular-season meets. “It’s a pretty big disadvantage not having spikes coming out of the blocks,” says Scarborough Coach Derek Veilleux. “It also really affects the long jump.” Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

When the coronavirus pandemic shut down Maine’s indoor track and field season in 2021, the state’s top high school athletes sought out meets in places such as New Jersey, Virginia and North Carolina. Last year, when the state required masks during all indoor competitions, the exodus to out-of-state meets continued.

Coaches think that trend will continue this winter, even without pandemic restrictions in Maine.

“The farther-flung meets were more of a COVID thing. The kids probably are not going to continue going to North Carolina or New Jersey or Virginia. But more will go to Boston to chase those meets,” said Ryan Dyer, coach of the Bonny Eagle girls.

There were other reasons that more Maine athletes traveled to out-of-state meets, coaches said. For one, meets in other states offer a larger pool of athletes and tougher competition.

“I remember the first year Bonny Eagle brought a group of girls to nationals several years ago. The qualifying standard was our state record,” said Bonny Eagle boys’ coach Mike Burleson. “Without a doubt, it’s a trend.”

In addition, there are state-of-the-art, banked tracks in places like Boston, New York City, New Jersey and Virginia, which translate into better times and distances. Of the handful of college and university tracks that host high school meets in Maine, only the University of Maine’s is banked. 


And in recent years, the University of Southern Maine has forbidden the use of spikes on its track during the regular season, a significant disadvantage for athletes looking to turn in a personal-best time or jump.

“Other states don’t have that handicap,” said Scarborough Coach Derek Veilleux. “It’s a pretty big disadvantage not having spikes coming out of the blocks. It also really affects the long jump.”

Bonny Eagle’s Gwen Catalano, Kallie Warner, Allie Hesler and Addy Thibodeau compete in the 800 meters Tuesday during a meet at the University of Southern Maine. The four runners plan to compete in an indoor track meet in Boston on Saturday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

USM used to allow spikes at regular-season high school meets, but after more high schools moved to practice and compete at the college after leaving the Portland Expo in 2011, the increase in traffic on the school’s indoor track chewed it up, said USM Athletic Director Al Bean. In 2018, the school resurfaced the track at a cost of nearly $850,000 – and then banned the use of spikes.

Maine high school coaches said when COVID restrictions forced more athletes to seek out-of-state meets, the significant advantage in using spikes became more widely acknowledged.

Athletes, too, see multiple advantages in traveling to bigger invitational meets outside Maine – either with their coaches or by themselves. 

Bonny Eagle sophomore Julia Pendleton went to meets in New York City and Boston last year to compete in the 60-meter dash, and being able to use spikes is a game changer, Pendleton said. 


“You get more power and grip. It gives you an extra burst of energy, especially coming out of the blocks,” Pendleton said. 

During the pandemic, several Bonny Eagle athletes traveled to compete in North Carolina, New Jersey and New York. So when the coaching staff saw that New Balance opened a state-of-the-art banked track in Boston, they planned to take 10 athletes to the facility’s first meet on Saturday, while the rest of the team competes at USM. 

Bonny Eagle’s Jacob Schmader plans to compete Saturday at New Balance’s state-of-the-art banked track in Boston. “The banked tracks are much faster, the transition (around the turns) is not as tight,” Schmader says. “And with spikes, you don’t slip.” Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Bonny Eagle sprinter Jacob Schmader is excited to not only chase after a personal-best time in the 400 meters on the Boston track, he hopes to break the school record of 51.72 seconds. Typically, that would be unheard of at one of the season’s first meets.

“The banked tracks are much faster, the transition (around the turns) is not as tight. And the newer tracks are so bouncy. And with spikes, you don’t slip,” Schmader said. 

Many athletes see the higher level of competition at out-of-state meets an opportunity to showcase their talent for college coaches.

Last year, the Scarborough boys’ team had five athletes travel out of state to meets. In 2021, four went as far as Virginia. A big reason why was the no-spike rule at USM. Three of those athletes are now competing for NCAA Division I track and field programs.


“I can see why kids would want to perform at a top level with the best in the country,” said Scarborough’s Veilleux. “In New York, there’s a meet every day of the week if you want to go there.”

York junior Cary Drake, a five-time individual state champion, said running at out-of-state meets helps those athletes who want to compete in college.

Before she ran at the New England championships last winter in Boston, she didn’t know any of the other runners from other states competing against her in the mile – and didn’t expect much in her own performance, since she was seeded 12th. She ended up placing second in a virtual dead heat, running a 12-second personal-best of 5 minutes, 1.52 seconds as she finished beside a runner who has gone on to compete for Duke University.

“That’s a very good Division I program, a very good running school. Running against someone of that caliber is very cool,” Drake said. “At bigger meets, it’s a whole different experience. It’s hard to have a crazy competitive, intense environment in USM. You go to the Reggie Lewis Center, and it’s packed with very, very talented athletes.”

To qualify for the state championships, indoor track athletes need to compete in a minimum of two league meets and attain state-qualifying standards (for times or distances), according to the Maine Principals’ Association. Out-of-state meets can count as league meets if a waiver is provided by the athlete’s coach. According to the MPA, athletes also need to regularly participate in team practices and competitions, a standard that is determined by athletic directors.

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