Members of the Sumner cheer team celebrate with their medals and state championship trophy after winning the Class C title Feb. 8 at the Augusta Civic Center. The state announced Friday that teams can begin practices next month and hold regional competitions in January should a winter season take place. ANDREE KEHN PHOTO/SUN JOURNAL

State updates community sports guidelines ahead of potential winter season

AUGUSTA — A framework for competition is now in place should Maine be able to offer a high school sports season this winter.

The state announced Friday revisions to its guidelines on community sports that would allow most high school athletic competitions to be held in some form this winter. Practices for approved sports may begin as soon as next month with teams eligible to hold the first countable contests in January.

The guidelines allow basketball, swimming, cheer, indoor track, hockey and alpine skiing to be held at the regional level this winter. Wrestling, which remains in the state’s “high-risk” category, has been approved for drill sessions and practices but has not been cleared for competition.

Masks must be worn at all times, including during competition. That recommendation, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said, was made after community leaders expressed concerns that “loopholes” in state guidelines were leading to community spread.

“Experience from other states has found that wearing face coverings during competition can work to keep athletes safe,” Lambrew added during the state’s daily COVID-19 briefing Friday. “As such, Maine now requires participants in sports activities organized by K-12 schools or by leagues and communities to wear face coverings.”

The Maine Principals’ Association Sports Medicine Committee had announced last Wednesday that no spectators would be allowed at any competitions this winter. As was the case with fall sports, schools in counties that fall under “yellow” or “red” designations under the Department of Education’s color-code guidelines may not participate in athletics.

In the latest update to those guidelines Friday, Franklin and Knox counties joined Washington and Somerset under the yellow banner. Waldo County, which had been yellow for three weeks following a major uptick in cases in October, returned to green status.

The new guidelines mandate that winter sports training stops until Dec. 7, on which day coaches may contact athletes regarding individual workouts. Teams are eligible to hold their first practices Dec. 14 and their first games Jan. 11.

Following Lambrew’s briefing, the Maine Principals’ Association released a joint statement with the Maine School Superintendents Association, Maine School Boards Association and the Mills administration. The MPA updated its guidance to include the state’s request that athletes wear face coverings and said that it would provide requirements for individual sports “in the coming weeks.”

“We are pleased to have worked collaboratively with the various stakeholders to provide an opportunity for winter activities to take place in Maine,” MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham said. “We understand the importance that these activities are to the health and well-being of our students, their families and their communities. The alignment with the community sports guidelines gives all groups a chance to work together to provide programs that are meaningful for the young people in our state.”

Burnham added that the new guidelines will allow volleyball to be played indoors in the late winter or early spring. Volleyball, the lone indoor fall sport, was restricted to outdoor play this fall over concerns of indoor transmission of the novel coronavirus.

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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