Head coach Gary Trafton called Thursday’s joint announcement from the Maine Principals’ Association and Gov. Mills’ administration announcing that there will be a fall season for most high school sports in Maine a hurdle that his team had to get over. Now they will just be awaiting decisions from both the RSU 2 School Board and the Winthrop School Committee on whether a season gets local approval — a final hurdle for all districts.
“It’s a great step forward,” Winthrop field hockey coach Jessica Merrill said of the announcement. “It’s nice to have some sort of guidance that we can look at some positive way, but we are still in the process of the local level because our school board hasn’t officially approved it yet. So, we have to wait until next week on what further recommendations they are going to make.”
Thursday’s announcement that soccer, field hockey, golf and cross country can have seasons this fall was an important step for athletes and coaches.
“They’re getting closer, and that’s what we’ve been waiting and waiting for, and there was a little more excitement about it tonight (at practice),” Trafton said. “Plus, next week we can go into the next phase and go 1-on-1 and be competitive out there, instead of doing all the conditioning and skills and drills stuff because that gets old after a while.”
Oak Hill girls soccer Jeremy Young said it has been difficult for him and his team going through the summer workout phases that the MPA allowed “without knowing if the phases were ever going to end.”
“We kept training in the hopes that we’d be able to play our brand of soccer in the near future,” Young added. “Now that we’re closing in on that day, it feels like a weight is being removed from my chest and the girls’ excitement is beginning to emerge as unbridled optimism as the caution we’ve been protecting our hopes with is falling away.”
Summer participation for the Mountain Valley girls soccer team under head coach Jeff Pelletier has never been better than this year, he said, because the girls were so eager to play.
“If that means no playoffs, no fans, masks on the sidelines, me coaching from a bubble, or anything else, we will take it and will make it work,” Pelletier said.
Of course, no playoffs is the reality for soccer and field hockey this season. Those sports are confined to “competition between teams from the same geographic area,” according to the MPA’s revised School Sports Guidance.
Lisbon field hockey coach Julie Petrie said she has no idea what a regional schedule might look like.
“I am just excited we may have a season. I haven’t even asked my AD about a schedule,” Petrie said. “I know they have been under tremendous amount of pressure, and I am not trying to be a nag. I have been just focusing on my team and maintaining positivity. I am sure that’s work in progress.”
Not being able to have a postseason and possibly compete for a state title isn’t ideal, but players and coaches are just glad their teams get to play.
“Personally, for the most part, I would rather play the games than win a championship,” Dirigo senior field hockey player Alexa Perreault said. “That’s always the goal, but just being able to play is better than nothing.”
“As far as no playoffs, it stinks,” Buckfield boys soccer coach Kyle Rines said. “But like I told my seniors today, if I had to choose between having playoffs or ensuring that they could have a season, I would choose the season, for them, every time.”
Lewiston boys soccer coach Dan Gish said his seniors, especially, were disappointed that they will not have the opportunity to reach a fourth consecutive Class A state championship game, but they understand that they are fortunate to be able to play.
“I told them that we need to look at their fellow classmates that play football and don’t get that chance,” Gish said.
Football and volleyball won’t be MPA-sponsored sports this fall.
Edward Little and Gray-New Gloucester both have fledgling volleyball programs working their way up to varsity status. EL athletic director Todd Sampson, who said that the Red Eddies volleyball team planning to play a junior varsity schedule this year, called the absence of the sport to the fall offerings “incredibly disappointing.”
“While I understand everyone’s concern for student safety, I really worry about our students’ mental health and emotional health,” Sampson said. “Physical activity and athletics is such an important piece for student-athletes.”
Volleyball can be played outdoors this fall, according to an email that the MPA sent to member schools, but Sampson said he’s not sure that’s something his school’s volleyball players are interested in.
Rines and Young are both hopeful that there’s interest in soccer to, as Rines put it, help “spruce up the season.”
“Perhaps a midseason tournament, midseason senior all-star game, or something of that like, would all bring some freshness to this season,” Rines said.
“I’m hopeful that there will be some creative local thinking that fits inside the MPA guidance to offer a tournament to fill the void left by the state playoffs,” Young said.
Cross country is slated to have regional and state championship meets, though the format for those meets have yet to be determined, according to the MPA’s most recent cross country bulletin, which was updated Thursday.
Winthrop cross country coach Ed Van Tassel said he is awaiting an updated bulletin to see how those meets are addressed.
“I am glad that for the time being that the MPA and my administrators are going to let us give it a try,” Van Tassel said. “The kids certainly need this opportunity. The uncertainty of the last few months, and the certainly last couple of weeks, has not helped build much enthusiasm. It will be nice to get the team together and to build some chemistry and momentum.”
Poland cross country coach Sean Galipeau-Eldridge said Thursday’s announcement “opens up a whole new set of opportunities that we weren’t certain would be open to us just a short time ago.
“The team has taken on all of the previous guidelines from our four phases this summer, because they know the seriousness of what they face, and they love our sport,” he said. “Modifications to our sport are worth it, if they help keep people safe and allow us to compete. A modified season is better than no season at all.”
Mt. Blue cross country coach Kelley Cullenberg said her team’s season is still up in the air as it awaits approval from the school board. Nearby RSU 73, which represents Spruce Mountain, decided Thursday night to only allow golf and cross country for interscholastic competition within the Mountain Valley Conference. Soccer and field hockey will only be allowed within the school community.
“One of the things my athletic director was talking about if we can’t compete, we may be able to have an intersquad, intramural kind of thing where, yes, we can still meet — I don’t know how many days a week it would be, but, yes, we can still meet,” Cullenberg said. “It gives the kids the opportunity to be physical and to have camaraderie, we just wouldn’t be able to get on the bus against other (teams).”
If Cullenberg’s Cougars are allowed to compete against other teams, she expects smaller meets, including two-team dual meets. Galipeau-Eldridge finds that possibility exciting, and it would give meets “an old-school feel that I think our athletes would embrace.”
Golf, like cross country, will have the closest thing to a typical season, with state-wide competition allowed. However, the delay in starting the season might affect golf more than any other sport, with dwindling daylight making it difficult to get every match in.
Mt. Blue golf coach Mark Cyr noted that the new start date for the fall regular season for most sports, Sept. 25, would normally be the end of the golf regular season.
“The problem comes, it gets dark, most high school matches start at 3:30, you can’t just get in your matches before darkness comes along,” Cyr said. “If you have other kids playing besides the six that count, you will have trouble getting these matches in.”
“This cut us back a lot,” Leavitt junior golfer Ruby Haylock said. “I feel like seasons in the past have flown by so quickly. This year is definitely going to be crazy.”
According to Saint Dominic Academy golf coach Chris Whitney, the Western Maine Conference golf season is slated to begin early, on Sept. 22, and the WMC championship will be played just two days later. The state championships, which don’t have a confirmed date yet, could be in early October, Whitney said.
“It’s one of those things, as a coach it will be how do you keep the interest in it (if the team doesn’t qualify for states),” Whitney said. “You usually have the summertime to work on the upcoming season, but as a coach do you flip it around if you have a young team and you don’t qualify for the state championship? Can you get the kids to work the next three weeks to go in the winter with a little momentum?”
Edward Little boys soccer coach Tim Mains, whose team was excited to learn there would be a season despite some disappointment about not having playoffs, said, “Ultimately I think there will still be plenty of motivation to play well and compete.”