Members of the MDI girls’ soccer team celebrate a game-winning goal by Elle Yarborough against Foxcroft on Oct. 2 in Bar Harbor. Joyous scenes abounded this year as teammates and friends came together on ball diamonds, fields, courts, tracks and more. PHOTO COURTESY OF KERI HAYES

After darkness, welcome back, sports

BAR HARBOR — Welcome back, everyone. 

Welcome back, parents who had to miss more than a year of watching your children play; welcome back, passionate fans and student sections; welcome back, football, baseball, softball, wrestling and all other sports that could not go forward in 2020 as well as in the early winter months of 2021. We’ve missed you dearly. 

No, the pandemic hasn’t passed us by, and there’s no telling when the challenges we’ve faced for going on two years now will fade. Despite the uncertainties, 2021 can be remembered as the year where the games and the people who love them made a return. 

“Being able to have what we’ve had this year has made a world of difference,” Bucksport head girls’ soccer coach Mike Garcelon said after his team’s second game of the season. “The kids can breathe easier, their parents are here, their friends are here, and it has just made a world of difference.” 

As the delayed winter sports season came to a close, there was a sense of optimism following two months of competitions behind closed doors. With the vaccine rollout progressing and new science on outdoor transmission emerging, the Maine Department of Economic Development and Coordination released new community sports guidelines that eased most play-related and gathering restrictions. 

The spring sports season began on its normal timetable, and the games resumed just as they did pre-March 2020. Although players and spectators were masked for the first few weeks of the season, those, too, were out of the picture for outdoor practices by mid-April. 

By the time this spring had rolled around, players and fans had gone more than 13 months since the 2019-20 winter sports season marked the last sense of normalcy in high school athletics. That return coming in the spring season, which had been the first lost to the virus a year earlier, made it even more meaningful. 

“Sports are a big outlet for these kids, so to not have that a year ago was hard on them,” Ellsworth head baseball coach Dan Curtis said as his team began preparations for its season. “It’s great for the parents, too. They’re probably more excited than these guys are to get out here and see their kids at it again.” 

Over the summer, American Legion baseball, Little League, recreation league sports, road races and more returned to Hancock County. Travel sports, even indoor ones, restarted in gymnasiums and rec centers throughout the state. 

With fall’s arrival came the returns of contact football and volleyball, two activities that had been unable to go forward a year ago. COVID-19 quarantines still poked holes in a few schedules, but local teams played the vast majority of their contests – and after a lost year, the crowds showed up bigger than ever. 

“The student section had 50 people, and we had like five or six different teams here to come watch us,” Ty Giberson noted after the Bucksport football team’s 43-13 win over John Bapst on Sept. 24. “It was great to be playing in front of our entire families and all of our friends again. We haven’t been here in two years.” 

Soccer, cross-country and golf were offered last fall, but the games took place with many procedures surrounding games and meets were altered and few to no spectators in the stand. With those protocols not in place this year and teams competing for championships, players and coaches felt much more at ease in 2021. 

“I think the kids are definitely more excited this year than they were a year ago,” Garcelon said. “Last year, I think they were just glad to be able to play, especially after it took forever to just be able to kick a ball around. They were happy to be able to do something, but I think the mood has been a lot better this year.”  

The winter sports season, though, has been marked by the return of masking in almost all circumstances during competitions. Crowd guidelines have also returned in many circumstances with some gyms at reduced capacities and others not allowing visiting fans. 

Even with those measures in place, the current winter campaign has been a breath of fresh air compared to last year. Wrestling is back after being canceled last winter; home student sections are as rowdy as ever; swim meets are being held in person once again; indoor track meets are back at the University of Maine rather than scattered throughout various high school gyms. 

No matter what happens in 2022, we’re leaps and bounds from where we were this time a year ago. Sports are back, and so are the people, the moments, the sights, the sounds and the passions that make them so special for us all. 

“We missed all those things last year,” said Mount Desert Island girls’ basketball coach Brent Barker. “Now that we have them back, it’s something we’re taking advantage of and won’t take for granted.” 

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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