Ellsworth’s Drew Pierson clears the high jump pole during an Eastern Maine Indoor Track League meet Jan. 4 at the University of Maine. Indoor track season is in flux this year with key facilities unlikely to be available. FILE PHOTO

Key questions remain ahead of indoor track season

ORONO — As the fates of most winter sports become a little clearer, the status of one remains rather murky.

With most individual activities falling under the “low-risk” category in the state’s community sports guidelines, indoor track should be in as good a position as any winter sport in the event a season materializes. Instead, those associated with the sport find themselves asking a difficult question: Where will we compete this year?

In a normal season, teams from across the state head to the University of Maine’s New Balance Fieldhouse or Bates College’s Merrill Indoor Gymnasium several times during late December, January and early February. Yet with those facilities closed even to their respective campus communities at the moment, it’s unlikely that teams will be making trips to Orono or Lewiston for meets this winter.

Although running, throwing and jumping events can be practiced indoors anywhere if ample space can be provided, the UMaine and Bates facilities being unavailable would still be a major setback. High school gymnasiums, though adequate for practices, lack running tracks as well as proper space to accommodate athletes from multiple teams.

“They’re really the only venues where high school students can go and compete in most of the events during the winter,” said Bucksport head coach Matt Morrison. “They’re the only places that can offer just about every event.”

Nevertheless, state athletic administrators haven’t given up hope on being able to hold in-person competitions. One possible way to do so, Mount Desert Island Athletic Director Bunky Dow said, would be to hold separate events at different high schools.

“That’s definitely something we’re looking at,” Dow said. “For example, you could have all the throwers go to one area and do the discus, and for the runners, you could find the school with the biggest gym, which looks like Bangor High School, and have the races there.”

Another possibility, MDI head coach Aaron Long said, would be to use the winter period as an opportunity to prepare athletes for spring sports. Many college track programs offer fall conditioning programs in advance of the winter and spring seasons, and the MDI head coach feels his athletes could benefit from a similar regiment if competitions can’t be held.

“Whether [our athletes] play baseball or tennis or outdoor track, there are a lot of the same skills that translate between athletics,” Long said. “Power, speed, body control, endurance, cardiovascular fitness and so much more are involved with every sport.”

Although New Balance Fieldhouse and Merrill Gymnasium are unavailable at the moment, Ellsworth Athletic Director Josh Frost is holding out hope that those circumstances will change later in the winter. In the meantime, he emphasized practicing and conditioning as the way forward for indoor track.

“Access to the facilities will probably not happen,” Frost said. “Our hope is to provide a chance for kids to get together and condition and be ready for possible meets during the late winter if the facilities become available.”

Teams will also face challenges related to the 50-person limit on indoor gatherings as well as those related to physical distancing. Officials must enforce 6-foot distancing requirements in throwing and jumping events, and running events would use every other lane to maintain space between relay teams or individual competitors.

With those precautions in place and no events listed in the high-risk category, there’s optimism that indoor track can still offer every event — that is, of course, if there are no further setbacks to the season and if administrators can succeed in securing places to compete.

“I think they’re going to look for opportunities to include every event if it’s logistically and medically possible,” Morrison said. “Like everything this year, it’s about adapting. … Our hope is to get started Dec. 7, and I would just encourage parents to support their student athletes as they always do and support the decisions the authorities arrive at. We’re all trying to make this happen.”

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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