On Tuesday, Cumberland County superintendents announced that schools couldn’t begin fall sports until at least Aug. 3 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Schools in other counties, however, can start to hold small group workouts on July 6 as part of the Maine Principals’ Association next phase of reopening high school sports.
The MPA announced last week a four-phase reopening plan that allowed conditioning programs to begin in person on Monday, but without any sport-specific drills. Furthermore, student-athletes would be placed in “pods” of 10, and would be required to stay together during all the workouts.
At Brunswick High School, which is in Cumberland County, the announcement means student-athletes must wait a little longer to get together.
“It’s kind of unfair for all the schools in Cumberland county,” Brunswick football coach Dan Cooper said. “The MPA has a four-stage progression and the first two weeks is all you can do is exercise, no sports specific drills. Those people in Cumberland county can’t do that… A golfer, they can go right to playing. Everyone else, their drills are like basketball, you can’t share a ball, you can’t have anyone get your rebound… I’ve just been constantly adjusting. They just came out with the plan last week then I made my plans according to that then we got bumped another two weeks.”
Cooper is still planning on continuing to have Zoom meetings with his players.
“I can contact them, Zoom and stuff online, but July 6 would have been the first day we could meet and get together,” Cooper said. “Now other schools will be able to do that and training. At this point we just want to get the kids together to start training. Most of our kids have been running the same offense and defense for a couple years, so for us it’s the training. They haven’t been able to train together… As long as we have a season we will be happy.”
Across the Androscoggin River, Mt. Ararat football will get together next week. Coach Frank True doesn’t believe there’s too much of an advantage for his team as the next two weeks will be spent on conditioning.
“I don’t think there will be much of an advantage and here’s why,” True said. “You can only meet with 10 kids at a time and all you can do is conditioning. The first two weeks is conditioning, not sports specific. At the end of the day it’s nice to get together with the kids. Once an athlete chooses a pod to go to, he can’t switch. He has to pick and can’t switch sports. With all the stuff going on, I anticipate us getting together a few times.”
True isn’t sure how many players will show up for in-person workouts as other sports will be holding practices, as well, so his football team will be competing for participation with basketball, lacrosse and others.
Lisbon football coach Chris Kates was surprised by the ruling. The Greyhounds will be holding practices two times a week, but Kates said that his summers are focused on game plan installation.
“To be honest, I think if certain schools can’t do it they should probably cancel everybody,” Kates said. “It does raise questions about a competitive imbalance so I am shocked that there are two different approaches. This whole thing has been new for everybody so I think they’re writing the rules as they go and 10 years ago we don’t have all the summer stuff that we have now so it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if they said no contact until double sessions. I am more in favor of an even playing field.”
In other sports, coaches are making plans for Monday and have been keeping in touch with athletic directors and players with each passing update.
“We are looking at how to do anything around the MPA guidelines,” Wiscasset boys soccer coach Chris Coussette said. “Our summer league hasn’t done anything, we postponed everything and I haven’t heard anything back yet. As of right now I don’t have any sessions planned until I can get back together with my AD to see what we might do and to see what our school’s plan is.”
At Richmond, girls soccer coach Troy Kendrick has been updating his players through a group chat his team has and also group video chats.
“They’ve been good and I like it from a standpoint that they pester me about playing, they want to play,” Kendrick said. “It’s nice to hear that they miss it and want to be out on the field. Some of the kids at the end of school took the lead with conditioning and they did the Nike challenge and recorded their times. They’ve been doing stuff like that and we have a group chat so the players can keep in contact with each other. They’re nervous and apprehensive about getting started. They listen to the news and their parents about things.”
Kendrick had a video chat meeting with his seniors on Monday to talk about the upcoming summer, just one of many talks they’ve had as new information continues to sputter in.
“I met with my seniors and we were laughing and I said, ‘I know this isn’t normally what we do,’” Kendrick said. “We have a schedule for the summer league and normally we practice and play a couple times a week and the kids love that. I can use it to look at different combinations and formations and look at your freshmen.”
“It’s been tough because the ADs will tell me something and then I will share it with the kids and then a day or two later things will change. The information has come out in drips and it’s kind of tough to stay abreast with things. Trying to do everything we can and I know the MPA is to keep the kids safe and healthy because I want this to be over with, but it’s been tough.
Keeping your fingers crossed that we will play this fall.”
While soccer, field hockey and football adjust to changes, some fall sports such as golf can more easily be competed with social distancing.
“I think golf is kind of unique,” Mt. Ararat golf coach Gerry Caron said. “I teach at the Brunswick golf course so I see a lot of my kids all the time. I don’t go out and teach them and instruct them but it’s a, ‘Hello, how are you, how’s your game?’ A lot of the other teams, football soccer, field hockey get in with a lot of conditioning in the summer. Our kids don’t have a period where we need to do that because they are either playing in tournaments or playing at the course. I know all my kids are playing because I see them playing. They know what’s expected of them if they want to compete and get better and continue what we’ve done over the last few years.”