On Thursday, the Maine Principals' Association released new COVID-19 prevention guidelines regarding fall sports in Maine high schools.
But some districts cancelled fall sports programs well before they got guidance from the Maine Principals Association. Among them was Deer Isle-Stonington, where Principal Dennis Duquette said boys and girls soccer have been cancelled, but golf and cross country will go forward. Duquette said it is just not possible to maintain social distancing in close contact sports such as soccer.
He spoke with Maine Public's Jennifer Mitchell:
Duquette: In our school, our academic classes, we have to wear a mask. And we have to keep a six-foot distance. And how do you do that athletically? So it came down to one of those judgment decisions. If we're making our kids do that in school in a classroom, how do we justify it after school? And soccer, which is a very close contact sport? Where we are — we're on an island. And as far as a number of COVID-19 cases it's very, very limited. But with traveling sports, you continue to enter into different areas. And that was a part of the decision to not have the contact sports this fall.
Mitchell: What are you hearing from parents and students? There's bound to be some disappointment over a decision like this.
There is. There is disappointment. Not from all parents, I don't think, but by several. I think their disappointment is that they realize how important athletics is to their students for a variety of reasons. They have put up a couple signs using those red solo cups: ‘let the athletes play,’ ‘let us play,’ things like that. Proactive, nothing malicious whatsoever. So it's tough.
I believe you told us earlier that the soccer coaches at Deer Isle-Stonington have not been laid off. Instead, they're being repurposed to create a sort of replacement program that starts next week, with maybe some more unusual offerings. Can you tell us a little bit about that? And also, is it possible that more students, maybe ones who didn't go out for that hardcore competition, might actually be enticed to get involved now?
Well, hopefully, yeah. I mean that's our plan. But we're trying to get creative where kids can get outside and run, laugh, do things together, but maintain that social distance. So we've sat down, we've met, we've come up with some pretty good ideas, and we're going to solicit information from our students as to what they would like to see. But they have to be non-contact. Some of the things that we have put forth throughout the school: cornhole because of these cornhole boards, you have one person playing against another person but the distance is, approximaetly, what, 15 feet? I believe it is. And then we have ping pong. And we have our tennis courts out back. So we'll be playing after-school tennis. Also we set pickleball on one of the tennis courts. So we've got some good options right now. All the things put forth are, you know, frisbee, soccer, but two-on-two or three on three, almost a non-touch. You know, a goalie can't use their hand, for example. Those details have to be worked out a little bit. Kids will be touching things, they'll be touching the beanbags. There'll be touching paddles and things like that, but we can keep them cleansed and cleaned as they change hands.
Now the whole situation has been changing, of course, since the beginning of the pandemic, and back in spring, no one really had any idea how long it was going to last. Is it too soon to start talking about cheerleading and basketball? Winter sports are just a couple of months away now, and even spring sports, is it too soon to be looking at what's going to happen there?
So right now we're on hold for winter sports and spring sports, and we're gonna just play that by ear. As the superintendent gets more information, we're very hopeful that things will return to as much normalcy as possible by then. But right now we are assuming that we are going to be playing winter sports.
Ed note: interview has been edited for length and clarity
You can find more of Maine Public’s Deep Dive Coronavirus coverage here.
Originally published at 5:46 p.m. Sept. 10. 2020.