AUGUSTA  — Max Clark spoke briefly, but with passion. The rising junior at Bangor High School wants to play football this fall, and he wants the entire state of Maine to know it.

“This is more than just sports for us,” Clark said. “This is mental health. If we can do it safely, we should be out there.”

Clark spoke Thursday afternoon at Capitol Park in Augusta, in front of about two dozen people who attended the Let Us Play rally in support of the return of high school sports this fall.

The rally, which lasted almost an hour, was organized by Kristie Miner, an independent candidate for the Maine Senate in District 9, which includes Bangor and Hermon.

“I felt like it was a good time, an opportunity to actually hear the voices of the kids. I don’t think they’ve been able to adequately voice what sports mean to them,” Miner, a speech-language pathologist, said.

“As a parent and somebody that works in health care, I understand concerns people have around health. But I’m looking at the data and I feel like families should have the opportunity to make that decision for their own kids. Because for some kids, mental health might be more of an issue.”

The rally came after a frantic few days for Maine high school athletes. On Tuesday, the Maine Principals’ Association said no decision on the potential fall season had been made, as the organization looked for guidance from the Maine Department of Education.

Some guidance came Wednesday from the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. New guidelines place football and soccer in the “high risk” category of sports, and recommend no games or intrasquad scrimmages for either sport.

Kristie Miner speaks at the Let Us Play rally she organized in Capitol Park in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Miner said her sons Elijah and Isaac Hoshide play sports on teams in the Bangor school system.

“They’re anxious to get back. Since the lockdown began, my 15-year-old (Elijah) has been doing two- and three-time-a-day workouts with the goal of, ‘I’m going to be ready when things get started.'” Miner said. “I’ve been very impressed and grateful he’s had that motivation, but if you then aren’t rewarded for all that hard work, it’s hard to continue that motivation.”

Jen Michaud of Manchester attended the rally with her twin daughters Alissa and Alexis, who are 15 will be sophomores this fall at Maranacook Community High School in Readfield. The sisters hope to play soccer for the Black Bears. They and their friends are anxiously awaiting the MPA’s decision.

“It’s stressful, very stressful,” Alexis Michaud said.

“They played travel softball all summer and we haven’t had any issues (relating to the coronavirus),” Jen Michaud said. “They missed their spring season. To do that again to them this fall would be awful. (Sports) keeps them going for educational issues, too. They strive for good grades to play sports.”

Most who attended Thursday’s rally wore a mask and followed social-distancing guidelines. Miner set up a table with hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Hanging from the table was the web address for the MPA, and the MPA’s telephone number.

Miner urged people to call the MPA and thank it for all it does for high school sports. Miner said she called MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham and invited him to the rally, but Burnham graciously declined, saying he was busy working to resolve the issue.

Jim Libby, a former state senator and basketball coach who is now an economics professor at Thomas College and Colby College in Waterville, spoke on the importance of athletics to the overall academic experience. Libby stressed that the risk matrix used in categorizing football and soccer as “high-risk sports” need be updated.

“What we’re really asking the Maine Principals’ Association to do is put a little pressure on the state of Maine to update the risk matrix,” Libby said. “I expect if we have fall sports, we’ll use protocols. It will look a lot different. It’s going to require a lot of changes in behavior. I believe it’s safe to say, ‘Let them play,’ and we should let them play.”

Elizabeth Shardlow of Monmouth said her children, who are in middle school, are frustrated by the lack of sports and hope they will be able to play football this fall.

“There are greater risks to children from not participating in sports than COVID-19,” Shardlow said. “Their mental health is at stake.”

Burnham said the MPA is working to make a decision by next Thursday.

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