High school track athletes are setting records despite wearing masks
By Ernie Clark, Bangor Daily News Staff
While last winter’s statewide high school indoor track season was wiped out by COVID-19 and the lack of available field house space, the competition continued with a different look in eastern Maine.
Throwing and jumping events were held indoors where space was available, and distance races took place outdoors at Cameron Stadium in Bangor, all leading to the crowning of Penobscot Valley Conference/Eastern Maine Indoor Track League individual champions in those events.
Things aren’t completely back to normal this year. The COVID-19 pandemic continues, and athletes are wearing masks upon their return to PVC/EMITL competition in the New Balance Field House at the University of Maine in Orono.
But school records and field house records are falling, and a full regular-season schedule is under way to prepare athletes for league and state championship events come mid-February.
“I’d say it’s doing really well as far as coming back to it after taking a year off,” said Dave Utterback, Brewer School Department athletic administrator and co-director of PVC/EMITL indoor track along with Orono High School athletic administrator Mike Archer.
Utterback, who with Archer organized the makeshift 2020-21 indoor track season in the region, acknowledged that the number of participants this winter is down from pre-pandemic rates.
The PVC/EMITL also is believed to be the only indoor track league in the state to re-introduce spectators to its meets through a voucher system that provides tickets to each athlete.
“That’s gone pretty well, and I think it’s given the athletes a sense of what used to be normal to them when they were in the field house before,” Utterback said. “Getting the fans back in there has been pretty important for us.”
While there was some early consternation statewide about indoor track athletes having to wear masks during competition, the face coverings haven’t stopped participants from setting school and New Balance Field House high school records during early season meets this winter.
“I think if you gave them the option they’d choose not to, but right now they don’t and you’ve seen for three weeks in a row a facility record broken in one of the events that you would think a mask would inhibit the individual from doing that and that hasn’t happened,” Utterback said. “So I think it’s gone pretty well.”
That particular record setter is Bangor High School senior distance runner Megan Randall, who has established a new mark for the 2-mile run in each of her last three competitions. Her current school and field house record set last Saturday stands at 11 minutes, 3.37 seconds.
Randall also has the top time in the girls’ 1-mile run at 5:18.71.
Teammate Anna Connors, a junior, has the league’s fastest speeds of the season to date in the girls’ 55, 200 and 400, including her 58.92 clocking in the 400 last Saturday that marked a new school and field house record for that event.
The records set by Connors and Randall equal the number of New Balance Field House standards eclipsed during the 2019-20 indoor season before the pandemic arrived.
Top boys’ competitors so far his winter include Old Town junior Corbin Flewelling, top-ranked in the long and triple jumps; sophomore Miles Burr of Mount Desert Island, who’s posted the best times in the boys’ and 400; and Hampden Academy distance runners Abbott Valentine and Charlie Collins, top ranked in the 800 and 1-mile, respectively.
“I was one who thought that maybe that would be one thing you’d notice, that the quality of performance would go down a little, but I haven’t noticed it,” Utterback said. “I don’t know if anybody else that has a keen eye toward that sees it that way, but I think the results have been where you’d expect them to be.”