Camden Hills celebrates, something they are quite used to. The Windjammers won their fourth straight Class A girls’ soccer state title with a 2-1 win over Scarborough on Saturday in Hampden. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Camden Hills High School announced in August it would opt out of all fall sports during the coronavirus pandemic, becoming the first school in Maine to do so.

However, the school then reversed course and decided to offer golf and cross country after the Maine Principals’ Association announced it had come to an agreement with state agencies on COVID-19 safety guidelines for fall sports.

Camden Hills athletic director Jeff Hart said the final set of fall sports guidelines helped the district change its mind.

“When they gave the risk assessments for each sport, golf and cross country are listed as low, or lower risk,” Hart said. “We had put some thought into it. We almost kept (golf and cross country) in, initially, but when (the MPA) came back with some of the modifications they made, we felt comfortable that, with those two sports, we could keep things consistent with what we’re doing every day in the school, within school, and still compete.”

Maria Libby, the superintendent of Camden and Rockport schools, said she was happy that two varsity teams could return to action, but voiced her frustration with MPA officials, saying they took too long to finalize the guidelines with the state.

“I was frustrated with the process, there were a few pieces of the process I was frustrated by,” Libby said. “I was frustrated that the guidelines from the MPA took a long time to come out, and they seemed to be kicking the can down the road and not making a decision sooner.

“Ultimately, it’s why we decided to come out (with the decision) when we did, ahead of the guidelines, because we felt like the can had been kicked too far down the road. Somebody needed to let parents know what was going on. We had evaluated everything and quite honestly felt, regardless of what the MPA said, that this is what we feel is safe. We talked to plenty of medical professionals, we’ve got safety guidelines for schools. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out some of the sports stuff. We don’t know why it’s taking so long to come out with some guidance. A lot of that, I honestly feel like it’s political pressure, and parent pressure. There’s a lot of pressure to have sports.”

Libby also said she was frustrated by the differing set of guidelines for sports and for classroom instruction.

“You have this one aspect of school — which is sports — that is not governed by the Department of Education,” Libby said. “It’s governed by a different body that doesn’t have the same charter, or purpose, that the Department of Education has, or I have as superintendent. Quite frankly, my role is to look out for the whole, and I have a lot of things to consider.

“On some level, the MPA, their role is sports. If we had asked the Bartender’s Association of Maine whether bars should open, they might have said yes. But it’s not just about asking about the vested interest in that particular aspect. It’s a much more complex, whole, interconnected question about reopening schools. When guidance conflicted with regulations we had been given about what could happen during the school day, it was frustrating. The process was frustrating, and really doesn’t totally make sense why sports would be governed by a different entity. You have different guidelines for physical education than athletics. There are lot of things that were contradictory and didn’t make sense about the process. And quite honestly, still don’t.”

Hart added that about 170 students will be participating in either golf, cross country or intramural sports this fall.

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Vinalhaven is one of a handful of schools in the state that have also opted out of fall sports, joining Mt. Blue in Farmington and Rangeley, among others.

The island school faced several unique obstacles that made it difficult to play sports, including the need to ferry teams to other schools, principal Monte Selby said.

Furthermore, Selby said the island isn’t equipped to handle an outbreak, which further complicated the matter.

“Because of being an island, there’s serious concern out there — and I hate to use the reference — of if we become the next Millinocket sort of thing,” Selby said. “It would be a problem with what our medical center could handle. So people all summer have constantly been putting signs up with the visitors coming out here for the summer with ‘Please wear your mask’ and having to have people at the door to the grocery store, (counting) how many can be in at a time. So this community is very conscientious about (COVID-19). It’s funny, when it becomes a topic of sports, it’s a different situation. But still, ultimately when it came to, one, that kids are going to go somewhere, interact with kids somewhere else, be in each other’s face, there’s that.

“On top of that, obviously we have to use the ferry to go anywhere. The ferry can only have 10 people on the inside, and if there were older adults, the kids would not be the ones on the inside, which means, if it’s windy and rainy, our kids would be standing outside on the ferry going to and from the soccer match. There were a lot of (factors), but really I would say safety was No. 1, and then second was just the logistics that we deal with. A soccer game is an overnight in a hotel for us, because you play the game and there’s no ferry (scheduled in the evening) to get back home on. There’s even more safety issues staying in a hotel.”

In an effort to keep kids active, however, faculty and town residents have stepped up to play pickup games against the soccer team, which will continue throughout the fall.

“You should have seen it (recently),” Selby said. “The faculty and alumni are playing the high school kids, and the coaches are still out there coaching… It was so fun. It was the best of everything about soccer. It was competitive, but it was also tons of laughing, probably lots of teachers that won’t be able to walk tomorrow because they’ll be so sore. But it was men, women, the boys and the girls (soccer players) going at it, and it was high quality soccer. The good side is trying to get kids to play and be active and it’s actually something that’s pulling everyone together.”

 


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