Thomas College forward Zenawi Bowen maintains possession of the ball during a game last fall. Submitted photo/Thomas College athletics

AUGUSTA — Four Maine colleges said Monday they will buck the regional trend to cancel fall athletics because of the coronavirus pandemic and will pursue plans to hold at least a partial fall season.

In separate announcements, Colby College in Waterville, St. Joseph’s College in Standish, Thomas College in Waterville and the University of Maine at Presque Isle indicated they would continue with athletics despite having their conference seasons halted.

The decision to pursue competition comes as conferences across the region have canceled competition this fall, with the latest announcement coming from the North Atlantic Conference on Monday afternoon.

The 13-member NAC — which includes Thomas, Maine Maritime, Husson, UMPI and UMaine-Farmington — canceled all conference competition, but left open the possibility for members to schedule nonconference games.

“This is a difficult day for NAC students, coaches and staff,” NAC Commissioner Marcella Zalot said in a news release. “I want to thank the athletics administrators and leadership at each institution for their efforts to try and play a NAC fall season. What we wished we could do and ultimately what we are able to do are just in two different places right now.  I look forward to the day when the resilience and perseverance of this generation of students prevails and they are rewarded with the thrill and camaraderie of NAC competition.”

UMaine, Bates College, Bowdoin College, the University of New England, University of Southern Maine, UMF, Husson and MMA have already canceled fall sports. UMF canceled its fall sports season Monday.

Thomas College athletic director Christopher Parsons said he’s open to a modified fall season, adding he’s been in touch with six schools about scheduling contests.

“We feel good that we’re leaving that door open for our student-athletes,” Parsons said. “And we feel like we’re doing it in a safe way, because we will assess this before we even plan to do any outdoor competitions, and it would have to be against colleges and universities that have similar testing regimens that we have. For us, it’s down the road.

“Maybe at the end of the day it is not safe, and if it is not safe, we won’t do it, we won’t pursue it. But if we find it is a safe opportunity for our student athletes and our campus community is going to stay safe, we’re definitely going to look into those options.”

Thomas College forward Ellie Hoving, of Bristol, dribbles the ball during a game last fall. Submitted photo/Thomas College athletics

Colby athletic director Mike Wisecup said he’s had talks with area schools — including nearby Thomas — to get an understanding of where programs currently stand, but has not had any discussions yet about who the Mules will be playing, and when.

“I will say that we have spoken (with Thomas),” Wisecup said. “But we’re all speaking just to be able to understand what everyone is doing and learn from each other. In terms of having specific conversations around scheduling of competitions, we’re not there yet. Everyone’s conference has recently announced (cancellations), we’re all adjusting to it. A lot of schools still had to get out their public statements, we didn’t want to get ahead of our institutions, specifically.

“Now that we’re starting to see with more clarity, I think we’ll be able to now have these conversations, but we won’t make a determination until we get our students back on campus, we’re able to assess the situation, how our testing protocols actually work, and ensure that we can do the basics first.”

Wisecup said he’s confident that Colby can have some form of fall season.

“We’re grateful that our conference in particular has allowed us institutional flexibility in order to do what we can,” Wisecup said. “Being spread across five or six states, everyone’s situation is slightly different being in a rural or city location, everyone’s situation is different and we all have different institutional constraints. For us, we’ve taken the approach that we’re going to try to create some type of meaningful experience that includes competition in some way, shape or form. The biggest variable for me was who else we might be able to compete against. As you now know, we’re down to roughly the four schools (left) in the state to be able to do something with. At this point, it’s still premature to know exactly what that will be. We’ve got a lot to assess and learn over the coming months. We know it will take us longer to return to practice and to be able to return to competition shape, because we’re going to have to spread out practices, we won’t be able to use the weight room at the same time. We know it’s going to be a longer build up than what we’re used to.”

Newly appointed St. Joe’s Athletic Director Will Sanborn said what his school is proposing is, in many ways, similar to programs that have canceled. The difference is the Monks aren’t closing the door on possible competition within Maine and possibly programs in New Hampshire or Vermont.

“First of all, safety has to be foremost and we know COVID-19 is serious,” said Sanborn, who is also St. Joe’s longtime baseball coach and had been the associate athletic director since 2006. “But we also know that things are in a great place right now in the state of Maine. We know it’s July 20. It’s early and anything can change, but we’re also taking a very broad look at this.

“We also take seriously the physical and mental risks to the student-athletes with just pulling the plug on sport all together,” Sanborn continued. “And, if you really look at what we’re doing, it’s not that different from what a lot of schools are doing. Many are going to try to have some type of athletic activities on campus. We’re going to do that but we’re also not ready yet to say we aren’t going to try to get some games in.”

Sanborn made an analogy to playing baseball in Maine’s brutal spring weather, noting the last thing you want to do is cancel a game too soon and then have the sun come out.

“You pull the plug too early and then you’re wishing you’d played. There’s always room to cancel later,” Sanborn said.

St. Joe’s is a member of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference.

Sanborn said he has had discussions with other colleges about scheduling games this fall but stopped short of naming the schools. He said scheduling games, possibly even with schools that have announced cancelling the fall season, will require agreement on testing protocols and various NCAA decisions on issues like athletic eligibility and when fall sport championships will be held.

Lindsey Gregoire, of Kennebunk, dribbles upfield during a Thomas College field hockey game last fall. Submitted photo/Thomas College athletics

Currently, NCAA rules stipulate that an athlete will not lose a year of eligibility if their team plays less than 50 percent of its allowable regular-season games.

The Division I Ivy League, Patriot League and America East conferences, each with New England members, have also canceled fall sports.

UMPI also announced that it plans to have a modified fall sports season.

“At this time, we feel that we have a strong plan in place with the ability to test regularly and continue exploring the possibility for outside competition for this fall,” UMPI athletic director Dan Kane said in a statement. “If at any point, there is a shift in trends in Maine or we feel it is not in the best interest of our student-athletes and staff to continue, we will make adjustments accordingly.”

St. Joseph’s, a school of about 1,000 students and 400 student-athletes, is uniquely positioned to try to continue with a fall athletic program, Sanborn said.

“We’re in Maine, we’re rural, we’re small, we have the medical programs and the strong nursing and pre-med programs and a lot of expertise right on your campus. So I think that’s definitely a factor,” Sanborn said. “Safety is first and it is something we’re concerned with and it’s not that we don’t take this all seriously. Quite to the contrary. But we do feel can lay out a program for our athletes that can be safe but also can be exciting, fun, enjoyable and that they’re growing athletically and growing as a person. I don’t think they have to be mutually exclusive.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.