ELLSWORTH — The inevitable has been confirmed.
The Maine Principals’ Association delivered heartbreaking news Thursday as it canceled the entire 2020 spring sports season. The decision followed Maine Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin’s recommendation Tuesday that schools in the state continue with remote learning for the remainder of the school year.
“It is with regret that the Maine Principals’ Association announces the cancellation of the 2020 spring athletic season,” MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham said in a statement. “This was not a decision that was taken lightly, but one that the leadership at the MPA felt necessary to help support the recommendations from our Governor’s Office, the Maine CDC, Commissioner Makin and the Department of Education.”
The MPA’s decision means no high school baseball, softball, tennis or track and field will take pace in 2020. Spring practices were originally scheduled to begin March 23 for baseball and softball pitchers and catchers and March 30 for all other athletes, though the start date for all athletes had since been pushed back to April 27 following the state’s first positive test for COVID-19 on March 12.
The Department of Education’s recommendation was made after a review of the United States Center of Disease Control’s 8-20 week timeline for “avoiding large group/in-person discussion once there is evidence of community transmission of COVID-19.” Community spread was confirmed March 16 in Cumberland County, March 26 in York County and Friday in Penobscot County.
“[We recognize] the profound challenge of reinventing public education and the many culminating events and rites of passage that educators and students anticipate all year long,” Makin said. “That said, I believe it is extremely important for school leaders to have as much information as possible in order to best prepare educators, students and communities for a longer period of remote learning.”
The MPA is now among 21 governing bodies to have canceled the spring sports season within their respective states. As of Sunday, spring sports had also been canceled in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.
With the season lost, administrators are looking to do what they can to recognize affected athletes. Mount Desert Island Athletic Director Bunky Dow told WDEA’s Chris Popper that schools are looking into postseason jamborees for the seniors, and Ellsworth’s Josh Frost added in a Facebook post that athletic directors in the state are in constant contact to exchange ideas.
“There are a lot of meetings and things going on still,” Frost wrote. “We are coming up with ideas on how we can still support our student athletes through all of this and how we can recognize our spring senior athletes.”
As difficult as the news has been to take in for local coaches and athletes, it hardly came as a surprise given the current atmosphere locally and nationally. Yet that won’t make the announcement any easier for athletes, coaches and parents, who had been holding out hope for a late start to the season.
In addition to lost memories and experiences, athletes will also lose out on the character- and relationship-building aspects stemming from the cancellation of an entire season. In order to help athletes cope, Burnham has urged coaches to continue to connect with them.
“We also want to recognize the important role that coaches and advisers play in the lives of our young people,” Burnham said. “[We] encourage them to continue to reach out to their team members to provide the emotional support that so many students need during this time of uncertainty.”
For the moment, at least, there is no timeline as to when sports from the high school level all the way up to the pros will return to the fold in any capacity. Even once many of the current lockdowns ease or end, hosting events with large crowds on hand and athletes in close, physical contact with one another could take time.
Nevertheless, administrators want athletes, coaches, parents and others eager for a return to action to remain positive. Even if the current climate can make looking ahead rather difficult, Dow is confident sports will be back when the new school year begins.
“Please follow guidelines, take care of yourself, stay in and don’t go out and do unnecessary things,” Dow told WDEA. “This is sad news, but we WILL be back in the fall.”