MPA eliminates face coverings mandate for high school sports

By Ernie Clark, Bangor Daily News Staff

Jaclyn Tourtelotte has carefully watched the student-athletes at Foxcroft Academy practice and play their way through the COVID-19 pandemic since preseason practices began last summer.

As the school’s athletic administrator, she has worked with coaches in various sports seasons to create competitive opportunities — all with a keen eye on the players’ health in her role as athletic trainer at the Dover-Foxcroft school.

News April 27 that Gov. Janet Mills has relaxed Maine’s outdoor face mask requirements in the wake of new federal guidance — and the related hope that changes to the state’s community sports guidelines that might similarly unmask high school student-athletes for outdoor activities  — had Tourtelotte hopeful that she’d soon be able to see her athletes from yet another perspective.

“It would be great to see a kid make a great play and be able to see him smile,” she said.

That opportunity now should be in full evidence for upcoming spring sports activities after April 28’s release by the Maine Principals’ Association of revised guidelines for events it oversees.

According to an MPA press release, masks no longer are required for outdoor practices and competitions, though masks are recommended when 6 feet of physical distancing is difficult to maintain.

Masks also are required when individuals are in such inside settings as locker rooms, rest rooms or on a bus.

In addition, spectators are not required to wear a mask at outside events if they are able to maintain 6 feet of social distancing. 

Those guidelines align with newly revised Maine community sports guidelines.

The press release followed a proposal sent by the MPA to state officials, according to MPA Interscholastic Executive Director Mike Burnham.

Even before the announcement, this week’s new federal guidance and the state’s initial response fostered hope for a return to normalcy within the state’s interscholastic sports world as well as other outdoor athletic activities such as road racing.

“First of all I was really impressed with how quickly Maine changed the written guidelines for all of us after the CDC’s announcement, it seemed almost simultaneous,” said Gary Allen of Great Cranberry Island, a longtime road race director whose events include the Mount Desert Island Marathon and the Millinocket Marathon.

“It seems like more and more as people are getting vaccinated more and more things are being relaxed and it does make me feel more optimistic.”

Allen served as an official last weekend at the first track and field meet hosted by Mount Desert Island High School of Bar Harbor in more than 600 days.

“The kids obviously did what they were supposed to do and wore masks in order to compete, but there was a side of me that was a little sad not being able to see their faces,” he said.

“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if some of these kids, especially the seniors, in one of their next meets or if the state meet can be held, could be able to compete without their masks.’”

The community sports revisions mirror Mills’ statement which indicated that face coverings would remain required for outdoor settings where the 6-foot social distancing standard is challenging, as well as for and for indoor public settings.

“I think it just comes down to people respecting other people’s space,” Tourtelotte. “Two years ago I didn’t want people leaning against me, and I still don’t want people leaning against me.”

Allen had planned to host the Bridge the Gap road race from Prospect across the Penobscot Narrows Bridge to Bucksport this weekend but for now has postponed that event.

The next scheduled race under his guidance is the Downeast Sunrise Trail Relay, a 102-mile team event from Ellsworth to Eastport on July 23-24 that he expects to attract 400 runners.

“It’s already sort of a socially distanced event because all of the teams are spread out over a 102-mile course, but teams travel together in the support vehicles so we would need to have protocols in place for that,” Allen said.

Allen is optimistic about staging this year’s Downeast Sunrise Trail Relay, which could lead to the return of the MDI Marathon in October and the Millinocket Marathon in December after a year’s absence.

“I think it’s going to be one of those situations where the rules regarding road racing will continue to evolve and the rules for high school sports will continue to evolve, but I don’t think we’re months and months away from things getting better,” he said. “I think week by week as a higher percentage of Americans and Mainers keep getting vaccinated it’s going to further relax things.”

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