By Mike Lowe
Portland Press Herald
ELLSWORTH — The Maine Principals’ Association on Tuesday delayed its decision on whether high school sports will be played this fall as the group awaits further guidance from state officials.
MPA officials are trying to get clarification from the state on the differences between return-to-school safety guidelines from the Maine Department of Education and the community sports return-to-play guidelines established by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.
MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham said it would be difficult to offer a fall season under the DOE guidelines, which emphasize strict mask wearing and social distancing, but that the MPA could offer sports by following the community sports guidelines.
Burnham had hoped to have a final recommendation on the fall season Tuesday but said the MPA needs to get more guidance. He said that it is possible that not all sports will be offered this fall.
“At this point, we do not have a formal recommendation to make for the committee as we continue to work with those government agencies to determine what school-based sports should look like,” said Burnham. “I think I would be remiss if I didn’t say if we continue to follow the Department of Education and really centering on the use of masks as well as the physical distancing. Just two weeks ago, it was released for outdoor PE classes they recommend 14 feet for physical distancing. Our sports committees did not feel that was possible for us to adhere to with any of our athletic offerings.
“I know that there have been some rumors out there that we have already made up our mind, that it was a foregone conclusion that today would be the formal vote to eliminate fall sports. … I don’t have that formal recommendation. We continue to do everything we can to try save all — if not all, at least a portion — of some of our fall programs.”
Burnham said he realizes time is of the essence. Phase 4 of the MPA’s voluntary summer conditioning programming is to begin on Monday with fall tryouts scheduled for Sept. 8. Games are scheduled to begin Sept. 18.
The MPA traditionally offers football, field hockey, golf, volleyball, boys’ and girls’ cross-country and boys’ and girls’ soccer in the fall season. Burnham said it is possible that some fall sports could be moved to later in the year.
“We had actually kind of circled today on the calendar as the date we would make the recommendation,” said Burnham, “and I think we certainly could make a recommendation that if we’re following the guidelines that schools and superintendents are following for the return to school that our recommendation would be that we’re not able to offer those activities.
“But if the recommendation from the Governor and CDC is that we follow closer to the community guidelines, then we feel that we can start putting that framework together. … I think we’re good to go, we just need to know what the expectations are for school-based sports and activities. We know that time is of the essence. We also know that Sept. 8 was not a hard line in the sand, that Sept. 8 was arrived at to give the superintendents an opportunity to get the kids back into school and figure out their plans.”