SOUTH PORTLAND — Adam Perron was hired as the girls’ soccer coach at South Portland High School on April 30, just weeks after the coronavirus pandemic shut down high school sports in Maine.

Because of the pandemic, he didn’t have a chance to work with his new players throughout the summer, either in a league or in conditioning workouts. So Monday – the first day of high school practices for soccer, field hockey, golf and cross country in Maine – was not only a special day, but a different one.

Perron had his players wear name tags.

“It’s a very special day,” said Perron, who previously coached boys’ soccer teams at South Portland and Deering. “It’s funny, I have name tags which I’ve never done before. There are girls I’ve never laid eyes on and we want to make sure we do everything fairly. This day has been a long time coming.”

It was just last Thursday, after months of speculation, that the Maine Principals’ Association and state officials agreed on what the 2020 fall high school season would look like: football and volleyball had their competitive seasons canceled and can practice only with significant restrictions. But all other sports could play. So Monday, teams from around the state stepped onto the field for the first time – except in York County, which still cannot practice because it has been designated a yellow county by the Maine Department of Education color-coded system designed to address a school’s readiness for classes.

That they are practicing came as a surprise to many. “I didn’t think we were playing until they told us we were playing,” said Bryan Hoy, the South Portland boys’ soccer coach. “Then I fell out of my chair.”

Being on the field was a surprise to players as well. “To me it feels like there’s a brighter future coming,” said Elise Connor, a junior soccer goalkeeper for the Red Riots. “That we can finally be out here and doing some stuff for the first time in a couple of months.”

Falmouth’s Annika Hester spikes a ball over the net after a set from Hillary Bouchard, left, during a practice on the team’s new sand court on Monday at Falmouth High School. Steve Craig photo

At Falmouth High School, the enthusiasm was equally high, though a bit tempered because both the boys’ soccer team and the volleyball squad know they won’t be able to defend their Class A state titles. Soccer and field hockey will not have state playoffs and, for now, volleyball is holding out hope for a season stuffed between the end of winter and the beginning of spring sports.

“We’re definitely happy to be back here, just to be back here in the routine with our friends,” said Gus Ford, a senior forward who scored two goals in Falmouth’s 5-2 title win last season against Lewiston. “Yeah, not playing for a championship is not ideal but hopefully we can compete for some type of something and hopefully play some teams we don’t normally get to play.”

For now, Falmouth’s two-time defending champion volleyball team will practice outdoors, wearing masks, on its newly created sand court, which it used Monday.

“I try to keep it mostly happy,” said senior volleyball setter/hitter Katie Phillips. “I’m just glad everyone is out here because it would have been easy to say, ‘Oh, there’s no fall season, I’m just going to go home.’ ”

Emotions and expectations need to be balanced, said Annika Hester, Falmouth volleyball team’s star outside hitter.

“In reality, those negative thoughts are going to creep in but it’s just important to balance that with thinking about the whole situation,” Hester said. “I’m very grateful to have my family safe and all my friends are safe and I’m just thinking about the broader picture right now.”

Even football linemen were finding reasons for showing up at Falmouth, despite the knowledge that they will practice this fall without pads or helmets for lots of conditioning and some 7-on-7 touch contests, while holding out hope for a real season in early spring.

“The bond that I get with my boys, my best friends, (they will) be life-long,” said Falmouth sophomore guard/defensive tackle Rocco Mancini. “It’s really a way of life. I really just love the way football is. You’re together. You’re a team.”

Matt Phillips, another sophomore lineman (and Katie Phillips’ younger brother) said linemen can work on footwork and conditioning. Most of all, practices provide a needed social outlet, “because at school we don’t really get to socialize and hang out, so this is a place where we can do that pretty safely.”

Practices were spent on conditioning, fundamentals and constantly reminding players of COVID-19 safety protocols. For instance, as South Portland’s field hockey players lined up the length of the field for running drills, Coach Sarah Millington told them to keep spreading out until there were six feet between them.

“I have a feeling I’m going to be saying that a lot this year,” she said.

As at every school, players at Falmouth and South Portland had to undergo a screening process before even stepping onto the field. At South Portland, the questionnaire has to be received by certified athletic trainer John Ryan two hours before practice, so he can examine it and let the coaches know who can and cannot practice. “It’s a series of questions all based on what the CDC has put out for guidelines,” said Ryan. “Then there’s questions related to traveling to hot spots, close contact in regards to exposure.”

No one was turned away by Ryan, but Hoy had to send a couple of players away because they hadn’t completed all the paper work.

Coaches have to wear masks all the time. The players can take their masks off during strenuous activity. And that was OK. They were back on the field.

“It’s just really important to be here today,” said Millington, “to bring it back.”

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