Officials reduce number of high school games as fall season nears

After pushing the start of the fall sports season back three weeks from Aug. 17 to Sept. 8 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maine Principals Association has officially reduced the number of games allowed for each fall sport.


Football teams will have seven weeks in which to complete a six-game schedule after being allowed to play up to nine regular season games in previous years.


Soccer, field hockey and volleyball teams will have their regular seasons capped at 10 games after being allowed to play as many as 14.


The MPA also announced that soccer, field hockey and volleyball teams won’t be required to play a minimum number of games, which in previous seasons was eight games.


No decision has been made on the status of post-season games.


Cross country and golf schedules have not been revised, according to the MPA release.


The MPA also said that with school schedules being re-done, the due date for the submission of those schedules has been lifted to give school administrators more flexibility.


Mike Archer, who is beginning his 21st year as the athletic director at Orono High School, said safety is the top priority so reducing travel by playing games against schools that are nearby is one way to generate a safer environment.


“We’re developing regionalized schedules,” Archer said. “It may mean playing somebody three times. We have to make sure we don’t do a lot of traveling.”


“Safety is paramount. We have the responsibility of taking care of our students and the community. We have to closely follow any MPA guidelines in addition to the [Maine Center for Disease Control] recommendations,” said Bangor High School athletic director Steve Vanidestine.


School and city officials also have to give their blessing, Vanidestine said.


Bangor High is the only Class A football school north of Lewiston, which is 108 miles away. So Bangor’s schedule will likely consist of Class B schools that are much closer, such as archrival Brewer.  


“Given the situation with the pandemic, our coaches have clearly stated that a reduced regional schedule would be welcomed,” Vanidestine said.


Archer said they aren’t ruling anything out.


They want to do everything they can to give their student-athletes a chance to have a season as long as they can do it safely.


The spring season was canceled by the coronavirus.


“We need to be relentless and creative,” Archer said. “We’re going to put everything out on the table. We have to do everything we can to give our kids hope [there will be a season]. We want to exhaust every possible option until someone tells us there won’t be a season.”


Archer said due to the fluidity of the situation caused by the pandemic and the uncertainty pertaining to the regular season schedules, postseason scenarios aren’t on their radar at this time.


“We have to think about the regular season first,” he said. “We’re being proactive and reactive at the same time.”


Brewer High athletic director Dave Utterback suggested that if the MPA does give them the green light to have a postseason, they could have an open tournament format where every team qualifies.


That would provide an equitable solution to a situation in which teams in the same class may play a different number of regular season games.


Utterback said in addition to regionalizing schedules, they have to make sure their opponents on the schedule “make sense competitively.”


The MPA had outlined a four-phase approach for student-athletes to prepare for the season with strict social-distancing guidelines and other safety protocols.


Phase Three will begin on Monday with teams being able to include sport-specific, team-oriented drills utilizing one or more athletes but maintaining social distancing protocols and other safety measures such as wearing a mask when not exercising.


They will continue to be able to have as many as 10 players in a pod for indoor workouts and up to 100 in designated areas for an outdoor workout.


Field hockey goalies in full gear must undergo an acclimatization to heat protocol prior to exercise and activity.


Many schools haven’t begun Phase One yet.


Utterback said his school, Orono and Bangor’s John Bapst High School are the only ones in the area he knows that have gone through the first two phases.


With Friday’s news that all the counties in Maine have been rated green, meaning students can return for in-person schooling, there is optimism that a fall sports season, albeit abbreviated, could be a reality.


However, it is a cautious optimism.


“This is at least a road map to something. We’re taking baby steps but it is better than no steps at all. It isn’t a done deal by any means,” Utterback said. “I’m not sure if any superintendent has gone on record saying there will be a full offering of sports in the fall.”


However, athletic administrators are hoping to be able to supply their superintendents with a blueprint which will provide a safe return to fall sports activities for their student-athletes.


“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure what happened last spring doesn’t happen again,” Archer said.

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