The Maine Principals' Association and state officials have agreed on a plan that would allow several interscholastic sports to be played this fall but would push football and volleyball to the spring. The new guidelines were announced Thursday. But more details need be worked out before any games begin.
In a letter to school districts on Thursday afternoon, the MPA announced that it had reached agreement with the Mills administration and other school groups on guidelines for resuming sports this fall.
The plan specifies that most fall sports, including soccer and field hockey, are considered safe enough to be played outdoors, with proper precautions.
But football and indoor volleyball will not be played during the regular season. Instead, both sports will be moved to late winter or early spring.
The new guidelines also impose other restrictions: Indoor practices will not be allowed this fall, and if a county is designated "yellow" or "red" by the state's color-coded risk assessment system, no practices or games can be held until it is designated "green."
York County is the only county in Maine not to receive a green rating - it was designated yellow last week after seeing several outbreaks and increasing positivity rates.
The decision comes after state officials raised concerns with the MPA's original plan, which would have allowed all sports to resume this fall. Last week, the MPA agreed to delay the beginning of the season until September 14 to work through those concerns.
For Orono High School football coach Lance Cowan, the plan is encouraging. He says while the new guidelines aren't ideal, they do afford a chance at eventually having a tackle football season, with potential alternatives like flag or touch football over the next few months.
"We're going to take what's best," Cowan says. "And the best part of it is that, as of right now, we still have a tackle football season. While it may not be in the fall, these kids will still be able to get out there and compete."
But even with those alternatives, the decision is a disappointment for some student-athlete families. Meagan Foster's son is a senior on the Lakes Region High School football team. At times, she says, her son has struggled with school. But sports gave him community, and motivated him to work harder in class.
"And if his grades start slipping, his coach, or his athletic director, will come to him, and say, 'Hey, kid. You've got to work harder.' And he does. He does."
Foster says she understands the risks of the virus, but she worries that pushing football until the spring will continue to affect the mental health of her son and other student athletes.
"They're looking for ways to get together, just to boost themselves back up," Foster says. "But not having [football] in the fall, pushing it to that mid-spring, just doesn't make sense."
In a release, Mills administration officials acknowledge the important role of sports in the "physical, social, and mental wellbeing of students across Maine," but they say the new guidance will protect students, staff, and their local communities.
That means masks will be required for officials, spectators, coaches, and any athletes not in the game. Schedules will look different, too. Caribou High School Athletic Director Evan Graves says in his area, schools are looking at keeping competitions and games more local to limit travel and reduce interactions.
"So if that means that we're playing teams more in our regional area, we're going to take that. And be successful with that," Graves says. "We're going to show up to compete. And hopefully we can get back to some kind of normalcy at some point."
And Orono High School Athletic Director Mike Archer says other issues will also need to be sorted out. Schools will need to determine how to safely transport student athletes to and from events. And he says gathering restrictions could cause challenges - only 100 people will be allowed at each event.
"When you factor in your two teams that are playing, and a JV team, and all of your workers that need to work a game - like a soccer game, it would be your scorekeeper, ball runners, officials - do you have spectators or not?" Archer says.
As districts work through those challenges, some have already made the decision to opt out of some or all interscholastic sports this fall, and will instead offer more socially-distanced activities, such as tennis, cornhole and frisbee.
Meanwhile, the MPA'S new guidelines must still be vetted by two separate committees. They must also receive approval from local school boards before any fall sports begin.
The Orono Red Riots photo appears through a media sharing agreement with Bangor Daily News.