State high school cross country championships canceled

By Ernie Clark, Bangor Daily News Staff

The Maine Principals’ Association announced Monday, Nov. 9  the cancellation of this week’s scheduled 2020 state cross country championships.

The state championship races for boys and girls in Classes A, B and C were scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 11 (boys) and Saturday, Nov. 14 (girls) at Saxl Park in Bangor. Foxcroft Academy sophomore Annie Raynes had qualified for the girls B championship.

“I feel terrible for the kids, especially the seniors who have lost a lot of things over the last year or so,” MPA Assistant Executive Director Mike Bisson said. “It’s not something we take lightly by any stretch of the imagination. We know how much it means to kids who have a goal and have been working toward it.”

Bisson said the decision to cancel followed a meeting Monday with members of the MPA’s sports medicine and cross country committees, and stemmed from two major concerns.

One was bringing students together from all parts of Maine through statewide travel amid a significant recent increase in COVID-19 cases around the state.

The 177 cases reported by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday morning represented the latest single-day number for the state and the latest of several days  when the number exceeded 100..

The most recent seven-day average for new coronavirus cases is 160.9, up from 99.9 a week ago and 44.4 two weeks ago.

The state championship meet for cross country followed a localized regular-schedule schedule and a regionalized state-meet qualifying process focused on conference championship races.

“When you’re looking at what came out last week with the community sports guidelines and shutting the fall down and kind of taking a hiatus until December for the winter sports, bringing kids from every corner of of Maine to a state meet as our [COVID-19] numbers are rising quickly,  it just caused some angst, that’s for sure,” Bisson said.

Another big concern prompting the MPA to cancel the cross country state championships involved the revised face-covering mandate issued as part of Gov. Janet Mills’ executive order late last week that now requires student-athletes to wear masks throughout their events.

Previously this season cross country runners wore masks before and after their competitions but not during their races, leaving little time for them to acclimatize themselves to wearing the mask in a championship-level event.

Bisson attended a season-ending Penobscot Valley Conference meet at Saxl Park on Saturday where runners competed while wearing face coverings.

“There were kids that struggled,” he said. “Obviously these weren’t the state championship competitors and it was a warm day, but you’ve got to take all of these factors into effect and  certainly it does make a difference where they haven’t been training with them all year and that was a real safety concern for us.”

Bisson followed that up Monday morning by emailing the athletic directors of schools that would have had runners competing at states to share concerns.

“A lot of them put it out to their coaches,” Bisson said. “Certainly the coaches wanted to try it, but the ADs were a little more reserved. A lot of people were very concerned about running it, and in fact many were not going to send their kids potentially anyway.”

Cross country and golf were the only sports designated as low risk by the state and MPA for the fall sports season, enabling them to hold state championship events. Golf crowned its state champions in early October.

This year’s cross country state championships originally were set to be held at the Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast with the boys races on Wednesday, Nov. 11, and the girls on Saturday, Nov. 14

They were moved to Bangor on the same dates after Waldo County was coded yellow under the state’s COVID-19 county risk assessment for the weeks beginning Oct. 23 and Oct. 30.

Waldo County was upgraded to green on the green-yellow-red county risk assessment on Nov. 6 but continues to be monitored closely by the state Department of Health and Human Services and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Belfast is the shiretown of Waldo County.

The state championship schedule for Saxl Park on both dates would have had Class C races at 9:30 a.m., Class A at noon and Class B at 2:30 p.m.

“It’s just another lousy thing that’s gone on in the last eight months,” Bisson said.

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