SAD 4 directors OK basketball season

GUILFORD — The season will look far different with various health and safety guidelines in place for players, coaches, officials and others, but the Piscataquis Community High School and Middle School basketball teams will be able to take to the court. SAD 4 school board approved 2020-21 winter sports during a Dec. 8 meeting in the Piscataquis Community Elementary School cafeteria. 

Wrestling, the other SAD 4 winter sport, will not be offered this season among Maine high schools.

Athletic Director Joe Gallant said the Maine Principals’ Association, with oversight from the state CDC and office of Gov. Janet Mills, has been regularly updating guidelines for the 2020-21 winter season and he has been meeting with the basketball coaches.

The MPA said limited workouts could start on Monday, Dec. 7, for skills and conditioning. Scrimmaging and tryouts were set to begin on Monday, Dec. 14, but the MPA has moved this starting date to Monday, Jan. 4. 

For all sessions players, coaches and everyone else will be wearing masks the entire time. During the fall, players were able to take the face coverings off once competition began.

Gallant said schedules are still being developed, and the middle school slate of games cannot be put together until high school is done. He said the current plan is to have 12 regular season contests — which can start in mid-January — with PCHS again playing in a pod of five to six teams as was done for soccer and field hockey. The teams making up the basketball pod are still to be determined. After the dozen planned games, there likely would be a tourney to crown a group champion.

Middle school practices can start on Dec. 14 and as of now the younger basketball players can begin getting ready for the season in full. Gallant said these teams would play eight games in a pod schedule.

For all levels of basketball, only 50 people will be allowed in the gym at once. “No gym in the state of Maine will allow spectators,” Gallant said, with high school games being streamed.

When asked if there should be a winter sports season in SAD 4, Gallant said he trusts what the state has in place. Should there be an increase in coronavirus cases then the designation for Piscataquis County would likely change from green to yellow, and therefore the decision would be made by the state and athletics would stop until the status goes back to green.

“I think we should do the best we can and follow the guidelines,” he said.

“What’s driving it is the kids’ mental health. They feel it is important for them to have sports,” SAD 4 Superintendent Kelly MacFadyen said.

Principal John Keane said Gallant was able to purchase “designated masks for athletes, at least for game days,” which should help as the players will be getting used to running up and down the court with their mouths and noses covered.

When asked, Gallant said 11 girls have signed up for high school basketball and 17 boys are set to be there for the start of the season.

With only middle school A basketball being offered this season, the school board also approved a recommendation to change the middle school B basketball teams to an intramural program. The change will not be in effect until at least 2021-22.

Gallant said PCMS has been the only school in the Penquis League allowing fifth-graders to play on its teams, and at times there have been size mismatches, which led to some safety concerns. He said practices going until 8 p.m. and potentially even later nights coming back from games in Lee and Medway are too late for most fifth-graders.

“We still want kids to have an opportunity to play, practice and have fun,” MacFadyen said. With an intramural program fifth-graders and basketball players not making the A teams will still have the opportunity to participate in the sport and improve their skills.

Gallant said he also has been approached about starting a unified basketball program, an offering through the Special Olympics joining people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. “It is not happening this year but that opportunity is out there in the future,” he said.

In other business, Board Chairperson Niki Fortier said last month she was among those taking part in a Zoom meeting on a comprehensive high school project 

Several years ago a comprehensive high school project application between SAD 4, SAD 46 of Dexter, the Milo-based SAD 41, Greenville and Jackman schools and Tri-County Technical Center — the application is non-binding for the participants — was ranked third on the state scoring list behind a pair of Aroostook County projects. 

The 145 points for the application trailed the 150 points for the proposed project in the Houlton area and surrounding school districts in southern Aroostook County and the score of 160 points for a possible facility in the Fort Kent, Frenchville and Madawaska areas in northern Aroostook County. During a meeting of the state board of education earlier in the fall, the decision was made to move the local project up to second and therefore allow a start to the planning process.

Fortier said the meeting went over what has led to the current situation and four or five members from each member school board will be needed for a larger group to work on the process. She has these individuals, including some with younger children who would attend a comprehensive high school when they get older, have been selected and have agreed to take part.

The next project Zoom session is set for Jan. 11 and “we will have regular updates on that as it goes,” Fortier said.

“Fingers crossed, in five years we will have a new building,” she added.

“Location of the school and governance are the two key factors that are challenging, so we are going to try to tackle those early,” she said.

Fortier said each participant likely has their preferred school location, but a number of factors will go into finding a proposed site. She mentioned available land with enough required acreage, sewer and water access and ability to handle the traffic as examples.

Under the Integrated, Consolidated (grade) 9-16 Educational Facility Pilot Project, a regional comprehensive high school or possibly two or even three schools would be funded by the state with approximately ​$200 million set aside for the program. The facility is intended to serve as a model for the rest of Maine by encouraging neighboring school districts with declining enrollments to work together to combine resources and reduce costs.

The school would offer a variety of academic programs from high school to college — through the University of Maine and Maine Community College systems — and training and certifications in various industries via a number of business partnerships. Similar education models are used in other states.

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