Owen Evans plays a round of tennis Tuesday with Josiah Bloom at the North Street tennis courts in Waterville. The Maine Principals’ Association canceled the high school spring sports season on Thursday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Maine’s high school sports spring season is over before it started, and it’s the first state in New England to make that call. 

The Maine Principals’ Association decided Thursday to cancel the athletic season in response to the coronavirus pandemic, following the Department of Education’s recommendation Tuesday for schools to keep their doors closed for the rest of the academic year.

“It is with regret that the Maine Principals’ Association announces the cancellation of the 2020 spring athletic season,” MPA director Michael Burnham said in a statement. “Please know that this was not a decision that was taken lightly, but one that the leadership at the MPA felt necessary to help support the recommendations from our Governor’s Office, the Maine CDC, and Commissioner (Pender) Makin, and the Department of Education, that schools across the state not come back in session and provide remote and distance learning opportunities for the remainder of the school year. 

“We understand the importance that these athletic and performing arts programs play in the lives of students, their families and their communities, but also recognize that these education-based activities are a part of the overall educational experience and at this time of uncertainty to adhere with the recommendations of staying at home, maintaining social distancing, and avoiding face-to-face instruction and large group gatherings, is crucial for us to persevere.”

The announcement was widely anticipated after Makin recommended that schools hold classes via remote and distance learning for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year. Some school districts, including School Administrative District 75 in Topsham, announced late Wednesday that they were following the education department’s recommendation. 

Pender Makin, commissioner of Education, left, Kirsten Figueroa, commissioner of Department of Administrative and Financial Services, and Judy Camuso, Commissioner of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, walk during a lunch break on March 26 in Capitol Park in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy Buy this Photo

Maine joins a growing list of states that have canceled the spring sports season: Wyoming, California, Georgia, Alaska, Oklahoma, Colorado, Michigan, Virginia, New Mexico, South Dakota and Arizona have also taken that step. Maine, however, is the first state in New England to decide against holding the spring season. 

Burnham said that he had been in contact with high school sports officials from the other nearby states, and “there’s not going to be a New England state that does not cancel.”

Athletes and coaches reacted to the impending decision Wednesday, with many saying they could see this day coming.

Thursday, it came.

Burnham said the MPA considered holding off making a decision to cancel the spring season until late April, but ultimately decided it was best to follow the state’s recommendations.

“We wanted to show our support for the work being done by the governor’s office, the Maine CDC and the Maine Department of Education,” he said. “If they’re recommending school is out with no personal instruction, it would be wrong not to follow that.”

The MPA’s decision officially quashes the hopes that had faded but were still flickering for a successful spring. The season was first delayed on March 13 and given an April 27  targeted resumption date, but all signs in the days and weeks to come pointed to that deadline being less and less realistic.

Still, coaches and players tried to stay upbeat.

“I’ve been trying to be optimistic throughout this whole process,” Messalonskee baseball coach Ray Bernier said. “I was telling myself things, ‘We’re in Maine, maybe the number of cases might flatten here quicker.’”

By Thursday, however, reality had set in.

“Honestly, (it’s) just pure heartbreak,” Bernier said. “Nothing even to do with me, personally, but just for all the guys I coach, it’s devastating.”

Winthrop girls tennis coach Jess Merrill used the same word.

“It’s just heartbreaking for my seniors. I have three seniors and I’ve coached them all the way up through, since they started,” she said. “That’s where my heart breaks the most, for these seniors and the work they’ve put in. We were talking all fall and winter about how excited these girls were for tennis season. It’s tough not to see that come through for them.”

Bella Dickinson is a Scarborough High School senior and a pitcher on the softball team that had won the last three Class A state championships and 60 consecutive games.

Her focus now becomes finishing the school year and getting ready for a summer season.

“Hopefully,” said Dickinson, last year’s Varsity Maine player of the year. “I feel for all the senior spring athletes who had to end their season like this, not just softball. There was so much hard work and dedication put in by athletes and coaches. To not be able to play the game you love, it’s heartbreaking. But right now, it’s about keeping the health of the public and staying safe. That’s the No. 1 priority.”

“It’s particularly heart-wrenching for the seniors,” Burnham acknowledged.

The new athletic facility at Messalonskee High School in Oakland was void of much activity Wednesday. The Maine Principals’ Association  canceled the spring sports season on Thursday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Winslow track and field coach Ken Nadeau said he understood the need for the association to make an announcement now.

“We’re now almost a month (in), and the pandemic, it doesn’t seem like it’s really slowing,” he said. “It seemed like that was the route it was going, so I kind of figured this would be the end result.

“Everybody’s just doing their best. … The MPA’s doing everything they can, they’re obviously following certain guidelines, as well as we’re trying to here at home.”

Nadeau said the lack of surprise didn’t make the decision easier to accept.

“It’s something you don’t necessarily want to hear, but it’s inevitable,” he said. “Everybody is feeling a sense of loss. You only get four years of high school. … You almost feel like somebody stole something from you and you don’t know how to get it back.”

Added Burnham: “We also want to recognize the important role that coaches and advisors play in the lives of our young people and would encourage them to continue to reach out to their team members to provide the emotional support that so many students need during this time of uncertainty.”

 

Portland Press Herald writer Mike Lowe contributed to this report.

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