Sumner Memorial High School students demonstrate in support of a high school sports season during a gathering Sept. 7 in Sullivan. Approximately 50 people gathered on the school’s front lawn Monday as part of the demonstration, which came less than a week after Regional School Unit 24 announced it would not be offering fall sports in 2020. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY MIKE MANDELL

MPA delays fall sports season; athletes, parents demonstrate

SULLIVAN — One week into September, the wait for a final decision on the 2020 fall sports season continues.

The Maine Principals’ Association voted Wednesday to delay the start of the fall season by one additional week. The decision came a day after the governing body received a letter from state agencies recommending such a delay and disapproving of the proposal outlined at the MPA’s Aug. 27 meeting.

In the letter received Tuesday, the state’s Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services wrote that several of the MPA’s proposed guidelines “did not comport” with state recommendations. The agencies specifically referenced the MPA’s guidelines on spacing and face coverings and the governing body’s failure to make modifications to sports in higher risk categories.

The following day, the MPA announced a one-week delay of the season in a statement with the Maine School Board Association, Maine School Superintendents Association and Governor Janet Mills’ administration. MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham said the delay was necessary to “allow schools to get their academic programs underway as we further adjust our guidance.”

“In the coming days, we will work closely and collaboratively with the administration to modify our guidance and arrive at a solution that will honor the state’s safety protocols and protect the health and safety of student athletes along with their communities,” Burnham said. “We are grateful to the departments for their response to our request for feedback and look forward to working with them so that students may be able to play sports as quickly and as safely as possible.”

Red cups spelling out “#LetUsPlay” line the fence at Ellsworth High School’s Tug White Stadium. Ellsworth parents and students placed the cups, which were briefly taken down following an anonymous complaint received by the Ellsworth Police Department, at several athletic complexes around the city Friday. KELLI CASEY PHOTO

In her statement, Governor Mills advised Commissioner of Education Pender Makin and DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew to work with the MPA, Maine School Board Association and Maine School Superintendents Association to address concerns related to the guidelines. Makin and Lambrew added that the extra week would allow schools to focus on a return to education as leaders develop a new framework for fall sports.

“We appreciate the Maine Principals’ Association’s commitment to protecting the health and safety of Maine’s student athletes as well as their fellow students, school staff and families, a commitment we share,” the commissioners said in a joint statement. “We will work closely with MPA, the Maine School Boards Association and the Maine School Superintendents Association on a path forward.”

Prior to the delay, the season had been slated to begin Tuesday with the first practices. Golf, cross-country, volleyball, field hockey and soccer were eligible to hold countable games, matches and meets as early as next Friday, Sept. 18, with football eligible to begin the following Friday, Sept. 25. Those dates were announced July 20 after the MPA voted to delay its original start date of Aug. 17.

Elsewhere in New England, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference announced Friday morning that contact football would not be offered this fall. The following day, the Rhode Island Interscholastic League moved football and volleyball to early 2021 after Governor Gina Raimondo said the sports could not be offered as part of the fall season.

In Hancock County, Ellsworth High School students and parents gathered Friday evening in a show of support for the school’s fall athletes. As part of the display, participants lined cagelink fences at school athletic complexes with cups displaying messages of support for affected athletes.

The demonstration was cut short Friday night after the Ellsworth Police Department, which had received an anonymous complaint, informed students and parents that the cups would have to be removed. Yet students and parents returned Sunday night to replace the cups after receiving approval from city officials and the Ellsworth School Department.

On Monday, a group of approximately 50 people gathered on the front lawn at Sumner Memorial High School in a show of support for the school’s athletes. Students and parents held up signs and belted out chants of “Let Us Play!” as drivers passing by along Route 1 honked their horns in support.

The display at Sumner came just five days after Regional School Unit 24 announced it would not be offering sports in the fall. Jennifer Soule, a parent of two Sumner students, said she plans to organize a petition urging the RSU 24 Board to reverse its decision.

“Whether or not that’s going to work, we have no idea, but that seems like our only option,” Soule said. “We didn’t think that we would have to fight before; we thought that they would say yes. For them to say no was completely blindsiding to everybody.”

The fate of fall sports is still up in the air at Ellsworth, Bucksport, Mount Desert Island and George Stevens Academy. Deer Isle-Stonington will not be offering soccer this fall but plans to offer cross-country and golf.

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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