Biddeford and Kennebunk compete during a field hockey game last fall. Those schools, and others in York County, will not be able to participate in sports this fall as long as the county is designated “yellow.” Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

York County high schools received a double-dose of bad news about athletics on Thursday.

Not only are football and volleyball gone from the fall calendar, it was announced that in any county designated as “yellow” by the state – one deemed to have an elevated risk of COVID-19 transmission – schools must suspend all athletic activities, including practices.

York County is currently a yellow county. COVID-19 outbreaks in the county in the past week make it unlikely that the designation will change when the Department of Education updates its color-coded assessment on Friday.

The Return to Competitive Athletics and Activities guidelines released Thursday by the Maine Principals’ Association, said, “given the somewhat greater risk of sports than in-person education, school districts should suspend competitions and group practices, and apply the same or greater reductions in school sport activities that it applies to in-person education.”

In an email to schools, Mike Burnham, the MPA’s executive director for interscholastic activities, made the point crystal clear.

“Should a county be designated yellow or red, there should be no practices or games held until which time they are designated green,” he wrote.

“I think the change in the color designation was a curveball,” said Old Orchard Beach athletic director Dean Plante, who is also the school’s football coach. Plante said he and his coaches have emphasized navigating athletics during a pandemic would not be a smooth ride.

“There are going to be rapids. We’ve kind of tried to brace kids for this along the way and our kids are super resilient,” Plante said. “Our coaches are going to keep them engaged as they’ve been doing since last spring. We’ll find a way.”

York County had 14 new reported COVID cases on Thursday, consistent with its daily average over the previous week. The color coding is updated every two weeks.

“We’re in a different boat here in York (County). We can’t do anything with the kids, and here at Wells we haven’t done anything with the kids,” said Tim Roche, the football coach at Wells. “And everybody forgets band and drama and all these poor kids, too. They’re missing it too.”

Elsewhere in the state, Monday will be first official day of high school tryouts. The first games are scheduled for Sept. 25.

“If they still designate us as yellow (on Friday), that’s just devastating,” said Marshwood boys’ soccer coach Ben Deschene. “That puts us two weeks down the road before we can do anything. And then nine or 10 days to just have a scrimmage.”

A history teacher at Marshwood, Deschene said he could see the bigger safety picture.

“It’s a global pandemic and if medical experts are saying we shouldn’t play, as a coach and a teacher in the district, I just have to trust that it’s in the best interest of the players.”

Many of the cases in York County have been linked to a wedding reception, held in early August in East Millinocket, some 200 miles away from communities such as Kittery, South Berwick and recent COVID hot spot Sanford.

“Unfortunately that incident at the wedding is a prime example of community transmission and how it’s affecting at least one county right now,” said Rich Buzzell, Marshwood’s athletic director. “I really tried to stress that to our kids (at informational meetings on Wednesday). It can get out of control quick. We’re green as a county for what, five months, and in three weeks we double the cases because of carelessness.”

There is a caveat in the Returning to Competitive Athletics’ guidelines that says, “The county-level color designations are advisory for school administrators. Those administrators may consider local conditions and make their own decisions.”

But in the lead-up to the reopening of schools, the vast majority of superintendents in York and Cumberland counties consistently delayed even physical conditioning practices, activities that were taking place at schools in central and northern Maine.


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