ELLSWORTH — Spring fever was very real in Hancock County over the weekend — but only for some.
Prior to Monday’s snow dumping, Mainers were treated over the weekend to some of the nicest weather 2020 has had to offer thus far. With temperatures topping 50 degrees in some places it was a great opportunity for hiking, fishing, jogging and other activities that don’t violate social distancing guidelines while providing a breath of fresh air.
For those participating in spring sports, though, the end of March should have meant something more: the start of a new season. Instead, it has brought about frustration and disappointment after the spread of the novel coronavirus has forced Hancock County’s high school athletes to wait another month to begin practices.
“It kind of hurts to look out at the fields right now,” said Sara Shea, a junior softball player at Ellsworth High School. “You see all the nice weather and think to yourself, ‘Oh, it’s close,’ but it’s not.”
The season’s delay comes after the Maine Principals’ Association elected March 13 to postpone preseason practices until April 27. Pitchers and catchers were originally eligible to begin conditioning workouts March 23, and practices for all other athletes had been slated to begin Monday.
The MPA’s delay affects students wishing to participate in baseball, softball, outdoor track, tennis or lacrosse, though the latter is not offered at any Hancock County schools. It has left players, coaches and administrators in an unfamiliar situation ahead of a season that usually coincides with the end of a long school year.
“It’s super weird and a little boring,” said George Stevens Academy baseball’s Caden Mattson. “You try to still work out and stay active, but it’s hard when you’re quarantined and not at school or with your teammates.”
Even as they’ve had to adhere to social distancing and isolation, local players have managed to stay active. Shea and Mattson have been doing workouts in their basements, and Shea even has a net set up so she can sharpen her hitting skills indoors with Ellsworth’s Katsiaficas Gymnasium unavailable.
One of Shea’s teammates, Trinity Montigny, has stayed active outdoors by adding daily runs to her routine and indoors by working out at a friend’s private gym when not in use. As a senior, the spring sports season would be the last opportunity for Montigny to play in an Ellsworth uniform.
“For us seniors, it’s hard because this is it for us,” Montigny said. “We really want to get out there and go play, and if we can’t, it’s just over.”
Coaches were not allowed to speak with players during a two-week “hands-off” period prior to the practice period slated to begin Monday. The MPA originally planned to extend the hands-off period all the way until the new April 27 start date but reversed that decision Friday.
Mount Desert Island track coach Aaron Long reached out to his athletes Monday with a plan to keep their bodies active and their track and field skills sharp. The “virtual meet series,” as Long described it, urges athletes to compete in one of eight events (100-meter run, 400-meter run, 100-meter hurdles, 1-mile run, long jump, shot put, discus throw and heptathlon) on their own and send in the results.
Of course, many athletes don’t have access to hurdles, discuses or shot put spheres, and runners participating will have to find their own spaces to do so with the MDI campus closed. Yet Long has urged his athletes to get creative to simulate the experience of the outdoor track season during a month in which they can’t participate in live meets.
“I’m a person who is always on the go, so this sudden halt has been a bit jarring,” Long said. “Because the ‘competition’ periods are over the weekends, my hope is that it provides incentive and motivation for kids and adults to stay active and improve their fitness or techniques during the week.”
There is also, of course, an important part of our social fabric that will be missed with sports on hold. People often turn to sports for a reprieve during difficult times, but with social distancing needed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, those games, meets and competitions aren’t there when people need them the most.
“You look forward to things like sporting events because they help you heal a little bit,” MDI head baseball coach Andy Pooler said. “It’s hard because we don’t have them in a time where we need them to bring people together.”
It is still a strong possibility that social distancing recommendations are extended beyond the month of April. That would make the cancellation of the 2020 spring sports season a strong possibility, something all three athletes who spoke to The Ellsworth American for this story acknowledged.
“It’s so draining, but that’s the way it is for everyone,” Shea said. “It’s important to stay positive and do what you can.”