AUGUSTA — The waiting game has begun once again for Maine high school athletes.
The 2020-21 winter sports season will be delayed, the Maine Principals’ Association has announced. That news came Tuesday as MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham, MPA Assistant Executive Director Mike Bisson and Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association representative Gerry Durgin sent a memo informing the governing body’s member schools that the season will not start Nov. 16 as originally scheduled.
“Please know that the start of the winter sports season will NOT be Monday, November 16, and that we will provide you with the actual date once it has been determined by the group,” the memo stated. “While we totally understand that people would like an answer today, this is a process that involves multiple state agencies, all looking through a different lens, trying to come to some form of agreement about what can and can’t take place and when it may be safe to do so.”
The MPA is currently working with the Maine Department of Education, Maine Department of Health and Human Services and other state education boards in an effort to provide a safe environment for activities this winter. DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew addressed the issue of winter sports during the state’s daily COVID-19 briefing earlier Tuesday.
“We are looking at what expert guidance says, what other states are doing and what leagues are doing as well as conferring with the Maine Principals’ Association, superintendents and school boards,” Lambrew said. “We are hoping that we can get information to people who are planning for winter sports in the near term, but we want to do so carefully and together.”
The decision marks the fourth time this year that the start of a Maine high school sports season has been delayed. The spring sports season was pushed back from March 30 to April 27 before ultimately being canceled, and the start of fall practices was delayed from Aug. 17 to Sept. 8 before the state urged the MPA to postpone the season by an additional week.
The memo brought up concerns related to face masks, which are required for other school-related activities, and facilities, many of which are unavailable at the moment. The MPA referred to the logic of mandating masks during school hours but not during athletic practices as a “double standard” and also expressed concerns over whether or not gymnasiums or collegiate arenas could be used.
“It is not reasonable to expect school staff to remove the equipment in the gym at the close of school every day to allow a practice to occur,” the memo said. “Many of the outside facilities that are utilized in many sports are not currently available. This includes many of the college facilities as well as some community facilities like YMCAs and ice rinks.”
Club sports, which have been ongoing throughout the novel coronavirus pandemic, have also been a subject of discussion. Although the MPA has consistently argued that it can provide athletic opportunities more safely than club and traveling leagues, the governing body is aware that athletes have been competing in other capacities.
“There continues to be several community programs that are sponsoring practices and games throughout the state as well as playing outside of the state,” the memo advised member schools. “Having these teams continued to play while the school-based programs are not allowed to play games is an issue currently being addressed by state agencies.”
Maine’s winter sports offerings include basketball, cheer, indoor track, swimming, wrestling, and alpine skiing. All of those sports with the exception of alpine skiing, which is not offered at any Hancock County schools, are indoor activities. The state did not allow indoor competitions to be held at the high school level this fall.