SULLIVAN — At its Dec. 22 meeting, the Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24) Board of Directors voted to approve a winter sports season for middle and high school athletics, reversing its initial decision.
The 7-1 decision follows what has been an impassioned debate for the RSU 24 community since the beginning of the academic year, when the Board of Directors voted to cancel the fall sports season. On Dec. 1, the board had voted to cancel winter sports due to safety concerns caused by the pandemic.
The newly revived Sumner Parent Partnership, a group facilitated by Sumner parent Jenna Shorey, formed a subcommittee tasked with developing a winter sports proposal to bring back to the board.
“No one disputes the very real concerns of COVID-19, and every day, we are all assessing the risks versus necessities in our lives,” Shorey told the board. “For many, there is an even greater risk brewing, and that is the social and emotional wellness of our students.”
Shorey cited the winter sports guidelines from the Maine Principals’ Association, calling them “sound guidelines founded by science and studies conducted across the country by professionals.”
Sumner Principal Ty Thurlow said a survey conducted by the MPA following the fall season found that just 14 out of nearly 13,000 student athletes tested positive for COVID-19.
“None of those positive tests came from any kind of community spread within the athletics,” Thurlow said.
Thurlow added that the survey was completed by 73 percent of MPA schools, although the names of schools that participated in the survey is unknown. He also noted that schools in York, Cumberland and Oxford counties did not participate in fall sports due to community spread in those counties.
Several students spoke, including Sumner student Emilee Hutchins, who said, “I want to keep my family and close ones safe, but also, my mental and physical health is not where it should be.”
She said that having student athletes practice in extracurricular settings would be safer because mask-wearing would be more controlled versus when students are playing sports outside of school.
The bulk of discussion focused on what motion to vote on, with Board of Directors Chairman Roy Gott wanting a more open-ended option for sports continuation versus the implementation of the “return-to-play” plan that has already been developed by Sumner Athletic Director Rick Dube.
“I worry about making it a directive to go ahead [with the return-to-play plan] tonight,” Gott said. “I just want to have the staff, administrative and otherwise, have the opportunity to make sure the plans are a good fit for us and have that collaboratively done between the staff, students and the parents.”
The plan follows “protocols as prescribed by the MPA and CDC,” Thurlow said.
RSU 24 Superintendent Michael Eastman clarified that this plan starts with conditioning and skill-building for student athletes as competitive play is not allowed until January under MPA guidelines.
Eventually, Gott voted with the majority of the board, approving a motion set forth by board member Keith Goldfarb for “RSU staff [to] proceed to develop and implement a plan that is completely in line with what is determined to be a safe program by the CDC and DOE for winter sports.”
“If we have to revisit in January because of the change in circumstances, we will revisit in January,” Gott said.
Board member Alison Johnson provided the sole dissenting vote. Board member Andrea St. George Jones was not present.
Johnson discussed statistics of those who have been affected by the coronavirus.
“Those are numbers until you know someone. Well, I know someone, I lost my sister in the spring,” she said.
Sumner offers basketball, cheer and indoor track in the winter. The cheer program won the Class C championship last season.