BAR HARBOR — A potential winter sports season took further shape last week as the Maine Principals’ Association unveiled its winter sports safety guidelines.
The new guidelines followed the MPA Interscholastic Management Committee’s latest meeting last Thursday. The governing body’s update provided more guidance on competition dates as well as information on football, volleyball and wrestling.
The biggest news came regarding wrestling, the lone “high-risk” winter sport and the only winter activity not to receive initial clearance for competition to begin in January. The MPA delayed wrestling meets until at least Feb. 22, nearly a month and a half after other winter sports would be allowed to begin.
Should wrestling receive clearance to begin in late February, the season would be capped at 10 meets with dual– or tri-meets the recommended form of competition. Mount Desert Island Athletic Director Bunky Dow said the MPA Wrestling Committee’s hope is that a different public health environment later in the winter can allow the sport to go forward.
“The committee wanted to be able do something to try and salvage the season,” Dow said. “It would probably be a six-week season, and in the meantime, kids and coaches can still get together and do non-contact drills and skill development.”
The MPA also circled Feb. 22 as a potential start date for volleyball, which was not permitted to be played indoors this fall. Volleyball teams would be allowed to play a maximum of 10 matches over a six-week period that would conclude the first week of April.
For football, the other fall sport that could not be played in 2020, the MPA is pushing for a season that would begin in mid-May and conclude in July. That marks a change from the MPA’s previous proposal to begin football at the same time as volleyball in the late winter or early spring.
Should high school football be played during that window, it would leave very little turnaround time between a late-spring season and a potential fall 2021 season. For Dow, that would present safety concerns that could force administrators to make difficult decisions.
“If you have a kid who has an injury or has a concussion, that short period in between the seasons probably isn’t enough time,” Dow said. “That would be a major concern for me, and if it gets to that, we’ll have to make a decision whether or not we want to forego that time frame for football and then wait to get back to a natural rotation in the fall.”
Basketball season is set to begin Jan. 11 and conclude Feb. 27. Teams are permitted to play a maximum of 12 countable contests, though it is unclear at the moment whether or not that number includes regional or “pod” tournament game. The state basketball tournament will not be held.
“Right now, it would a tournament between us and Penobscot County and Washington County,” Dow said. “We’re in the preliminary stages of working all that out as a league, and we’ll come back with a formal plan some time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, probably.”
Cheer squads are unlikely to be present at games this year as the MPA Cheerleading Committee has recommended that sideline cheer be discontinued during the winter season. Cheer competitions, which had already been modified to disallow verbal cheering and pyramids, will be held virtually rather than in a single location.
“I think cheering is the only sport where you’re going to have a state champion crowned,” said Dow, who is also a member of the MPA Cheering Committee. “We’re having discussions of a virtual meet where you do your routine in your own gym, film it and send the tape off for the judges to rank it.”
Swim meets, if held, are likely to be virtual events as well. Yet with few schools having their own pools, there will need to be coordination between swim teams and YMCAs or other aquatic facilities, which are battling their own restrictions and capacity limits.
Facility questions are an even bigger concern for indoor track. MDI’s Eastern Maine Indoor Track League meets are traditionally held at the University of Maine’s New Balance Fieldhouse, but with the facility unavailable even to the school’s campus community, Dow said schools are instead exploring the possibility of hosting separate events at different high schools.
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.”
The state’s school districts will make their own decisions as to whether athletics will be able to go forward at their respective high schools. Dow said the school district hopes to approve a plan for winter sports ahead of Dec. 7, the date coaches and athletes are eligible to begin supervised virtual workouts.
“I’ve met with [Superintendent Marc Gousse] and [Principal Matt Haney], and we’re all on the same page that we want to offer something, but we’re in agreement that it has to be a safe environment with safe protocols,” Dow said. “Hopefully, we’ll have something that we’re able to get started whenever that first start date is, whether that’s the 7th or whether it gets pushed back.”