AUGUSTA — Don Plourde went out for a drive Wednesday afternoon. There was one stop in particular the Cony High School baseball coach wanted to make.

“I went to my field to torture myself a little bit,” he said.

All signs are pointing to high school fields across the state remaining empty this spring. The Maine Principals’ Association is set to meet at 9 a.m. Thursday to discuss whether to cancel the spring sports season. This comes after Pender Makin, commissioner of the Maine Department of Education, recommended on Tuesday that classrooms stay closed for the rest of the academic year as the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread.

The softball field at Messalonskee High School in Oakland was empty Wednesday. The Maine Principals’ Association plans to meet Thursday morning to discuss canceling the spring sports season. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

“In light of the recommendation of the Education Commission, the Governor’s office and the Maine CDC, we will be discussing the upcoming spring season and the possibility of canceling,” said Mike Burnham, the executive director of the MPA.

The virtual meeting will include members of the Interscholastic Management Committee and the MPA’s Board of Directors. So far, 11 states — Wyoming, California, Georgia, Alaska, Oklahoma, Colorado, Michigan, Virginia, New Mexico, South Dakota and Arizona — have canceled high school spring sports seasons.

For athletes, the news is the latest blow in a spring that has been full of them since the start of the season was first delayed on March 13.

“It’s hard. To hear that, it’s really disappointing,” said Jake Fles, a senior defenseman on the Gardiner boys lacrosse team. “I was always hopeful. But as the weeks went on, things were getting worse.”

Among athletes, there wasn’t as much shock as a sense of finality.

“All of us kind of knew that it was probably going to go in this direction, and I think that we tried to mentally prepare for not having the end of our school year,” said Winslow High School senior Silver Clukey, a forward on the girls lacrosse team. “I knew that we probably wouldn’t have a spring season, but I don’t think I was ready to hear the news that we weren’t going to have it.”

At some point, as March gave way to April, the signs became harder and harder to ignore. Messalonskee senior pitcher Danielle Hall and junior catcher Brooke Martin were optimistic the season would resume after the delay, and practiced together often to stay ready in the meantime.

By the time Gov. Janet Mills issued the stay-at-home order on March 31, however, Hall’s hope started to fade.

“We just hadn’t been able to feel that excitement of going and practicing and being like ‘This is going to happen,’ ” she said. “We can’t be mad at it, we have to be safe and what not. But it’s disappointing.”

Chloe Wilcox, a senior catcher at Windham High, said the loss of her final season would be difficult.

“I’m obviously really sad about it,” said Wilcox. “Being a senior and everything, I’m not going to have a last season with my teammates, a last senior night. I feel bad for everyone. We’re all missing out on a piece of our high school experience.

“But public health is really important and every precaution has to be met.”

Seniors will see their careers come to an end, and teams will see promising seasons wiped away before they began. South Portland baseball coach Mike Owens said he had the Class of 2020 “circled for 10 years because I knew they were going to be good.”

“We have 14 seniors. It’s the biggest class we’ve ever had,” Owens said. “I just feel so bad for those 14 kids.”

Headlined by pitchers Hunter Owen, a left-hander committed to Vanderbilt and righty Noah Lewis, who will play for Maine, South Portland had legitimate aspirations to win the school’s first state baseball title since 1952. The Red Riots went 17-2 last season, losing 3-2 in 11 innings in the South final to eventual champion Scarborough.

Owen Evans plays a round of tennis with Josiah Bloom at the North Street tennis courts in Waterville on Tuesday. The spring sports season, delayed until at least the end of the month, could be canceled when the Maine Principals’ Association meets Thursday to discuss options. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Lewis was at the South Portland field throwing a bullpen session when he received a text from his coach with the news of Makin’s recommendation.

“I got the text and then I was just looking over the field and thinking about how I’m never going to be able to put on a South Portland uniform again, thinking about all I have done but also thinking about what was left to accomplish,” he said.

Owen said he “kind of saw the writing on the wall,” that the spring season would be canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was bound to happen. It sucks, really, but it’s bigger than baseball, bigger than us, for sure,” he said.

For Owen, the lost opportunity for a state title was less important than losing a season’s worth of memories with friends. 

“More than anything we just enjoy playing the game and that love for each other, it was so evident when we got to play with each other,” he said.

Owen said it’s important to “just go forward,” and remember, “it’s not just us, it’s happening to everyone in the country.”

South Portland isn’t alone in losing out on a potential success story. At Scarborough, veteran softball coach Tom Griffin had a strong team returning once again. The Red Storm are the three-time defending Class A state champions and have won 60 consecutive games. Griffin was to have five seniors.

“My heart breaks for them,” he said. “I know they worked so hard in the off-season. Some have no intention of playing in college, so this is their last hurrah. My heart goes out to them.”

Madison softball was loaded with talent and experience and chasing a third straight Class C title. Waynflete boys tennis was hoping for a 13th straight title in Class C. And Cony baseball, after two straight 4-12 seasons, went 11-5 with a largely junior and sophomore core last season, and was eager to take another step forward as a Class A North contender.

“Oh, 100 percent. We had most of our starters coming back, and a lot of those kids were sophomores last year and had a taste of success,” Plourde said. “We had a couple of lean years. When you have a good squad coming back, you really look forward to those years because you know it was worth going through the growing pains.

“I’m disappointed for the kids and disappointed for the program. We had some high expectations coming into the spring, and that makes it hurt a little bit more.”

Windham softball coach Fred Wilcox said that while he is “pretty bummed out,” he realizes there is nothing he can do.

“You have to go with it and be as positive as you can be with the kids,” he said. “They’re taking their lead from us. It’s a bummer for all of us. Sports is a huge part of these kids’ lives. But there are definitely bigger things to be worried about.”

Steve Craig and Mike Lowe of the Portland Press Herald contributed to this report.

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