The leadership at the Maine Principals’ Association should be commended. Whether or not high school sports is ultimately played in Maine this fall, MPA executive director Mike Burnham and his staff, as well as the members of every committee, deserve a thank you for the work they put in studying the fall sports issue. They looked at every angle, studied data, and concluded that Maine students can participate in all the fall sports — soccer, field hockey, golf, cross country, volleyball, and even football — with strict adherence to safety guidelines.

Even if the MPA had come out this week and concluded fall sports could not proceed in Maine this year, it at least put in the work and came up with a decision based on research, not apprehension.

Leadership in the state agencies, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Center for Disease Control, and the office of Governor Janet Mills, has not provided any leadership at all. Not on this issue, and that’s a disservice to all Maine’s student-athletes, who simply want and deserve an answer.

In mid-August, the MPA asked everyone to be patient while it looked for clarity from the state in regards to a few questions raised in its decision-making process. It looked as if that clarity came. On Aug. 18, Kelli Deveaux, a spokesperson for the DOE, said in an email, “As we have throughout this pandemic, we will strive to work in a collaborative manner with (the) MPA. Ultimately, any decision about interscholastic sports will be made by the MPA.”

This past Wednesday, the MPA’s sports medicine committee recommended moving forward, under strict guidelines. Thursday, the MPA’s interscholastic management committee voted unanimously to accept that recommendation.

But we’re not done. State agencies that didn’t want to touch the issue jumped back in. What changed? It appears when the MPA made a decision, it was a decision the state neither expected nor wanted.

The state has a lot on its plate. Which is exactly why it was right in charging the MPA with this decision, and why it’s wrong in not trusting the people, including medical professionals, who studied the issue and made their recommendation.

There’s a sense that leaders around the state would rather punt the issue of high school sports rather than make a difficult decision. If they don’t play, people are angry. If they play and there’s an outbreak, people get angry. Nobody wants a difficult choice on their record. So they tie themselves in mental knots trying to put it off. That’s not leadership.

Meanwhile, student-athletes who deserve an answer, yes or no, are left guessing, and that’s not fair. Maine’s youth has already absorbed the largest slice of sacrifice throughout this five and a half month crisis, with one school year ending in upheaval and another about to begin the same way. Our weakest are being jerked around by adults at the highest levels of authority who refuse to make a decision.

Conducting a fall sports season will not be easy. Everybody — all caps, underlined twice exclamation point everybody — needs to follow the guidelines set forth by the MPA to the letter. No cutting corners. No half measures. We’re seeing in real time what can happen when guidelines are ignored or flaunted. A wedding in Millinocket three weeks ago led to Covid-19 outbreaks across the state. This virus does not need an invitation. If the season starts, student-athletes have to understand that without their vigilance, it can and should get shut down in a moment’s notice.

The state’s hesitancy to trust the work put in by the MPA, which was told to make a call, is disappointing. It feels disingenuous, like the state only wanted the MPA to make a decision as long at it was the decision the state had already made.

Even if fall sports are ultimately approved, it will be a decision made at the local level, and it’s obvious it’s a decision many superintendents around Maine do not want to make. Like state officials, they are looking for somebody else to do dirty work.

Meanwhile, students who already have enough questions about school are left with more. There are arguments to be made in favor of a fall season, and arguments against. Please, stop arguing, look at the data, and make a call. Please, give the student-athletes the respect of an answer.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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