Volunteer and Mt. Blue High School field hockey player Brooke Bolduc watches goalie Maddy Goodwin go through a drill at a summer camp at Mt. Blue High School the past summr. Sun Journal file photo by Tony Blasii

The Maine Principals’ Association’s latest decision came as a pleasant surprise for Gardiner girls basketball coach Mike Gray.

“I was kind of half-expecting that the next time they made an announcement, (it) was that nothing was happening this summer,” he said.

Instead, the MPA over the weekend basically swapped dead periods, taking the two hands-off weeks that come before the start of the fall season and putting it at the end of June. Now coaches can’t have in-person contact until July 6 — though they can have virtual meetings starting June 21 — while the summer season will be able to flow into the fall without the mandatory shutdown.

For coaches who, like everyone else, are looking for structure as the coronavirus pandemic drags on, the decision was a welcome dose of guidance.

“I was super impressed with the MPA, taking a stand that we would start later and go right up until the season,” Skowhegan coach Paula Doughty said. “It gave parameters on what was going to happen. Our biggest fear as coaches is that our kids are going to go into a season and be totally out of shape. … I thought the decision was excellent, rather than just sit and wait and (wonder) what’s going to happen.”

Cony football coach B.L. Lippert said the decision is an encouraging sign for the fall season.

“I think there are still a lot of unknowns out there,” he said. “I think that what occurred over the weekend with the MPA’s memo was just that they’re at least at a point where they can see a conceivable way we have a fall season.”

Travis Magnusson, who coaches the Maranacook girls soccer and boys basketball teams, said the new rule is ideal for fall teams.

“It’s really good for fall athletes,” he said. “After people do the summer, sometimes high school kids can get out of shape in those two weeks. … It’s going to give kids a lot more of a chance to get conditioned so you don’t get those injuries.”

Magnusson said his boys basketball team loses some summer training time, though, which is a complication to the decision. Teams across all seasons use the summer for offseason work, and late June and early July are popular weeks for leagues and tournaments.

“We usually get a lot in,” Magnusson said. “Most teams I’ve had usually try to get 25 games in a summer.”

Gardiner runs a girls basketball league that normally starts in late June and runs five or six weeks, and Gray said he’ll move it up to a tentative mid-July start date.

“My big hope at this point for the summer is that things improve enough that we can do anything,” he said. “If all we get out of the summer is practice and skill sessions, then great. We’ll make the most of it.”

Doughty said she’s planning to move Skowhegan’s summer field hockey program from a June 15 start to July 6, and have it run through Aug. 14.

“We do a lot in June,” she said. “I’ve put together a new program and I’ve tried to modify it. We usually have three or four huge tournaments during the summer. … We won’t do that this summer. … But we can have scrimmages. A field hockey field is pretty darn big.”

Mt. Abram boys soccer coach Darren Allen holds a big 7-on-7 tournament in late July, but said the late June and early July period is big for his team from a working out and fitness perspective.

“We get together with area schools and just do pick up, but the big thing is we do a lot of weight room training in the summertime,” he said. “The big thing is you’re not in person in school to talk to the kids, and have a meeting, physically.”

Other summer programs and events were already on the verge of cancellation due to Gov. Janet Mills’s phase plan, which currently bans gatherings of more than 50 people indefinitely. For programs like Leavitt’s 7-on-7 sessions, normally slated for mid-July, that’s the major blow.

“Any 7-on-7 league I’ve ever been at or camp we’ve ever run has certainly had more than 50 people,” Lippert said.

Lippert said the team would normally do team weightlifting and a strength competition at Skowhegan in June, but said there are positives to the MPA’s call.

“I didn’t think we’d have any ability to have contact with them in person until Aug. 1,” he said. “Or maybe up until double sessions, or, in the worst scenario, until school starts.”

The other positive, from the coaches’ perspective, is that with the dead period in August being waived, they’ll have more time to get athletes who haven’t played full team sports since the winter back into shape.

“We’re trading the two weeks in June and July for those two weeks in August, so we can progressively ramp up the conditioning during that time,” Allen said.

“Maybe some good will come out of this. Maybe in the future, the dead period will be June and we’ll go right up to the season,” Doughty said. “The kids like it. It’s really hard for them to work all summer, get into tip-top shape and then have two weeks off.”

At this point, coaches favor any plan that helps the school seasons stay as intact as possible.

“I would give up every minute with them this summer if you could guarantee, or give me a 50 percent guarantee, that we’ll have a normal fall football season,” Lippert said. “If it takes more hands-off time than we’re accustomed to, I would gladly trade that in.”


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