Madison softball coach Chris LeBlanc watches two of his pitchers during a 2017 practice. Morning Sentinel file photo

Don Plourde isn’t hitting fly balls to his Cony baseball players yet, or practicing situations, or reminding them how to properly execute a rundown.

All Plourde has been able to do so far is reach out to them. But for the Rams coach, that was a start.

“I just sent them a text, it had really nothing to do with baseball. I just said ‘Hey guys, just wanted to check in, see how you were doing,’ ” he said. “It was nice to get the response back from kids. … We don’t even have the benefit of seeing them now at school or anything. They might as well be 100 miles away.”

The Maine Principals’ Association bridged that gap on Friday by walking back its hands-off restrictions, allowing coaches to talk with their players while the targeted starting date of April 27 approaches. Coaches cannot organize team workouts, but may recommend ways to train individually.

For coaches who previously were in the dark in regards to what their athletes were doing to prepare for the season, it’s a helpful step.

Winthrop/Maranacook girls lacrosse coach Shawn Drillen poses with some practice gear after a practice last season. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

“That’s the bigger piece of it, we can have some sort of communication,” Skowhegan softball coach Lee Johnson said. “They’re not getting out and getting a whole lot of social interaction, so at least they can have some sort of conversation with us. … And if they have any questions about things they could be doing on their own, we can always answer those as well.”

“It sort feels more like what it normally would have felt like,” Maranacook/Winthrop girls lacrosse coach Shawn Drillen added. “At least we can start things on a regular schedule, even though we’re just communicating and we’re not actually practicing.”

For many coaches, though, the ability to talk to their players about what they’re doing takes a backseat to asking about how they’re doing, especially as the prospect of a canceled spring season looms.

Madison softball coach Chris LeBlanc said he’s talked to a few players already.

“I let them know that I understood their frustration,” he said. “They are just devastated of the unknown. I told them that I would do whatever I could to prolong a season.”

LeBlanc, who is also the school’s athletic director, acknowledged, however, there isn’t a whole lot he can do as teams can’t practice or use school facilities.

“They really have to do their own thing,” LeBlanc said. “I can’t open up a facility or have them practice, so there really isn’t a whole lot I can do. I can encourage them to do some running, exercise, things like that.”

Even with the limitations, coaches find ways to be productive. Messalonskee track and field coach Matt Holman said he’s putting together a plan for his athletes now.

“We’re getting that together,” Holman said. “These kids are pretty active on their own. There’s not a lot of encouragement needed to get them to work out, thankfully. Track kids are hard to keep down. It’s what they love to do.”

Holman did express concerns for athletes who specialize in throwing and jumping events. Without school facilities available for practice, and without the supervision of a coach, it’s tougher for those athletes to train for their events, he said. Holman said he’d rather see those athletes focus on maintaining overall fitness, rather than try to jump, hurdle, or throw on their own.

“There’s serious safety concerns. It’s a tough position,” Holman said.

Gardiner boys lacrosse coach K.C. Johnson said he’ll post some drill recommendations for his team online, giving his players an idea of how to work on their skills by themselves.

“I’m going to give them individual instruction when it comes to wall ball, just to sharpen their skills,” he said. “Some running and fitness stuff they can do alone. I don’t mind them passing, but realistically, gathering of groups of smaller than 10, I don’t know how I feel about that yet. It’s kind of pushing it a little bit.”

Drillen said he’ll use the team’s Facebook page to post tips for individual workouts and practice sessions, be it wall ball or footwork drills, while being sure not to suggest too much too soon for players who are also trying to get the hang of remote learning.

“I don’t want to overwhelm them, but I think there will be a slow trickle of things, like ‘Hey, here’s a really good workout idea.’ … I won’t dump it all at once,” he said. “I want it to be varied and not sort of redundant. ‘Do this wall ball routine,’ it needs to be more than that. I’m trying to think of new ways.”

Zac Conlogue, the Mt. Blue boys tennis coach, said he’s used social media to stay in contact with his team.

“We have a Facebook page, so I post stuff on that,” Conlogue said. “I give them workouts they can do at home, some cardio, stuff like that. … They’re all itching to get back.”

Staff writer Travis Lazarczyk and sports editor Bill Stewart contributed to this report.


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