Cancellations, postponements rock local sports world amid coronavirus pandemic

ELLSWORTH — Everything is on hold.

From youth sports all the way to the country’s premier professional leagues, the entire world of sports as we know it must wait for the time being. As public officials look to contain (or perhaps mitigate) the spread of the coronavirus, that means gymnasiums, arenas, stadiums and fields all across America will be vacant for the near future.

Locally, the biggest announcement came Friday morning as the Maine Principals’ Association announced the postponement of spring sports practices until April 27. Practices were originally supposed to begin March 23 for baseball and softball pitchers and catchers and March 30 for all other athletes.

The postponement means teams must likely wait until at least May for their first scheduled competitions. Prior to the announcements, teams were eligible to hold their first countable games, matches or meets as early as April 16.

“With this decision, modified spring sports schedules will be worked on by our sports activity leagues,” Ellsworth Athletic Director Josh Frost wrote Friday. “As more decisions are finalized, those schedules will be updated and shared again.”

On Thursday, Harbor House canceled the Great Harbor Shootout, originally scheduled to be held Friday through Sunday in Hancock County. The tournament was set to bring between 4,000-5,000 people to Ellsworth, Trenton and Mount Desert Island, Harbor House Event and Community Relations Director Diana Novella estimated.

Then, of course, came March Madness. After initially announcing that men’s and women’s tournament games would be held without fans, the NCAA announced Thursday afternoon that the tournaments would not be held at all. Conferences also announced the cancellations of their respective tournaments, a development that nixed the Maine women’s team’s America East championship game showdown against Stony Brook.

“While we are disappointed to not have the chance to compete in the America East championship game, we fully support the decision made by league officials to cancel the event,” Maine head coach Amy Vachon said. “The focus on public health, including the health and safety of our staff and student athletes, is our No. 1 priority at this time.”

The NCAA also announced Thursday that it was canceling all other winter and spring sports championships, though the organization left regular season contests and conference tournaments to the discretion of individual conferences and university athletic departments. America East canceled all remaining competitions Thursday, and the North Atlantic Conference, which includes Husson University, Maine Maritime Academy, Thomas College, UMaine-Farmington and UMaine-Presque Isle, did so Friday.

“The health and safety of NAC student athletes and coaches, as well as institutional staff members, parents and fans, remains of utmost concern,” NAC Associate Commissioner Kate Roy said in a release. “Member institutions will determine at their own discretion the continuation of athletic practices and non-conference contests.”

The abrupt cancellation of spring sports at the college level has raised questions as to whether affected athletes would be able to retain a year of eligibility. The NCAA Division I Council Coordination Committee and Division III Administrative Committee announced Friday that they would be granting an extra year to athletes involved in spring sports, though such an announcement has yet to be made at the Division II level.

At the youth level, cancellations included the remainder of the Pine Tree Wrestling League season, the state’s junior high school cheer championships and all Acadia Fire Soccer Academy camps, games, practices and other activities. The youth sports scene was further brought to a standstill with the closures of all local YMCAs and Acadian Youth Sports’ withdrawal from all upcoming activities.

“We will not be participating in any events for the next 30 days,” AYS Director Kyle McKim wrote on Facebook. “After that 30 days, we will reevaluate and move forward accordingly.”

Other postponed events included the Josh Sprague Memorial Basketball Tournament, originally scheduled for Wednesday, March 18, and the Flattop 5K, which was scheduled for March 28. As of Monday, new times and dates for those competitions have yet to be announced.

Many local postponements and cancellations followed Gov. Janet Mills’ recommended Thursday that all indoor gatherings of more than 250 people over the next 30 days be put on hold. Mills’ recommendation came at the behest of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which confirmed the state’s first presumptive positive test for the coronavirus Thursday morning.

“Because COVID-19 spreads easily and rapidly, the U.S. CDC has recommended ‘social distancing,’ which means keeping your distance from other people,” the Governor’s office said in a statement. “It is one of the most effective strategies to prevent community spread of the coronavirus.”

On Sunday, the U.S. CDC recommended that all “organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 or more people throughout the United States.” The impact of this announcement on the MPA’s spring sports season and other scheduled events was not immediately clear.

This story will continue to be updated.

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell is the sports editor at The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander. He began working for The American in August 2016. You can reach him via email at [email protected]

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