Mount Desert Island’s Hunter Gray carries the ball during a 2019 high school football game against Waterville at Waterville Senior High School. PHOTO COURTSY OF BARRY GUTRADT

MPA won’t offer spring/summer football season

AUGUSTA — Whatever flicker of hope remained for Mount Desert Island football to be played during the current academic year has been extinguished.

The Maine Principals’ Association announced Friday the cancellation of plans for a football season in the late spring or early summer. The decision followed an MPA Football Committee meeting last Thursday in which administrators voted unanimously not to offer the sport in mid-2021.

A late-spring or early-summer season had been the hopes of players, coaches and administrators since November when the football committee determined that offering the sport during late winter or early spring was not feasible. The sport had previously been moved from its traditional fall slot as a result of state COVID-19 guidelines forbidding “high-risk” sports.

During last Thursday’s meeting, committee members discussed the plausibility of offering a season in the event that football’s high-risk status were to be modified. In looking at potential conflicts with spring sports as well as financial and safety-related concerns, the committee ultimately recommended against offering the sport.

“During a lengthy MPA Football Committee meeting yesterday, the difficult discussion around the pros and cons for sponsoring some type of a late spring/early summer tackle football season if the ‘high-risk’ designation was modified took place,” Chairman Fred Lower said. “As a result of this conversation, the MPA Football Committee will not be recommending that we sponsor a school-based tackle football program in the spring/summer.”

In making their determination, committee members prioritized protecting the 2021 spring sports season. The spring season was canceled in its entirety a year ago as the early stages of the novel coronavirus pandemic shut down athletic activities across the country.

MDI’s Aiden Grant hauls in a pass as Bucksport’s Jordan Malenfant defends during a 7-on-7 high school football game Oct. 23, 2020, at Bucksport High School.

Had plans for mid-year football materialized, local baseball, tennis and track teams would have been in competition with football over players. Such a scenario would likely have resulted in roster attrition for all parties.

“With football’s requirements, you can’t play it and play another sport at the same time; you’re going to have to pick one,” Ellsworth/Sumner head coach Dave Svec said. “A lot of our kids play spring sports at the high school and do travel sports with the Y or AAU leagues. It would be hard if we’re in a situation where we’re overlapping with them.”

MDI Athletic Director Bunky Dow also noted the financial concerns that a mid-year football schedule could impose. Equipment, field maintenance and coaching staffs don’t come cheap during any season, particularly one that would be crossing over into a new academic year.

“One of the things people don’t realize is what budget you’re going to take it out of,” Dow said. “These are games we didn’t budget for, and you have a new budget [for the new school year] starting July 1. If you’re going into July, is that coming out of this year’s budget or next year’s? That financial aspect is something that adds to it.”

Whereas the announcement canceling the fall football season was made just two weeks before games were scheduled to be played, this one comes more than four months before the proposed spring season was set to begin. Making the announcement well in advance, Dow said, was the correct move.

“I’m glad they made this decision early and gave some notice for it,” Dow said. “You obviously had some discussion about what happens if there’s a change to how football is categorized, but in regards to what the state has said, it doesn’t look like that is going to change.”

Maine was one of 15 states in which traditional high school football could not be played in the fall. The state joins Connecticut, Hawaii, Nevada and Vermont as one of five in which the contact form of the sport will not be played at all during the 2020-21 calendar year.

Elsewhere in New England, Massachusetts and Rhode Island are set to begin football Feb. 22. One New England state, New Hampshire, held a fall football season, though many teams were forced to cancel or forfeit games as a result of possible COVID-19 exposure.

MDI played modified 7-on-7 games against fellow Hancock County teams Ellsworth and Bucksport this past fall in lieu of the traditional form of the game. The 7-on-7 format follows the touch rule and prohibits running plays, blocking and blitzing.

The MPA, Lower said, plans to “support efforts that would give senior football players a chance to finish off their football experience.” Although it has yet to be determined what such efforts would entail, Svec said a few possibilities have been discussed.

“One thing I’ve heard mentioned is having some Lobster Bowl-type games so those seniors could have one more chance to play,” Svec said. “If they could find a way to do that, to just give those seniors something, that would be fantastic. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

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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