Dan Shaw, of Mountain State School Equipment, and Augusta Civic Center staffers work Wednesday to install one of the new basketball goals in the Poulin Auditorium of the Augusta Civic Center last year. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Tuesday’s news that the start of the high school winter sports season is delayed should not come as a surprise to anyone. Practices are not going to begin November 16.

We hope this is because the Maine Principals’ Association and state officials are working together to develop safety protocols and form the outline of a season, and that takes time. The fall sports season was handled like a hot tray pulled from a stove without an oven mitt. Few wanted to touch it, and it resulted in a big mess.

For volleyball and football players, hopes were raised, then smashed. If nothing else, Tuesday’s announcement that winter sports will not start on time is a sign all involved in this decision are invested from step one. There should be no cruel reversal like in the fall.

No news is not good news, but in this case it’s not bad news either. No news is no news.

If you’re looking forward to a season that looks anything like the winter sports you’re used to, temper your expectations. This week, there are reasons to be pessimistic.

Seventy-six new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Maine on Wednesday. Another day of high rates of infection on top of a few days of the same. We’re doing well, but we’re not doing as well as we have been. That trend will determine the fate of a winter season. This virus is everywhere, and that will play the biggest role in what a winter season looks like.

We know this virus is more easily transmitted indoors. Do you think superintendents and school boards who had major concerns about football and volleyball in the fall, when the state was doing a lot better than it is now, are not going to have those same concerns about indoor sports like basketball, wrestling, and competitive cheering?

The indoor track and field season depends on Maine colleges, which traditionally have been generous in allowing Maine’s high schools use of their facilities for practices and meets. By and large, those facilities are currently closed to their off campus communities, and are not likely to open soon. The 2020-2021 Maine high school indoor track and field season could be a casualty to a simple lack of available facilities.

The same could happen to hockey and swimming, sports in which high school teams exist around the state. Is there enough ice time at off-campus rinks to accommodate all the teams? Are schools willing to bus hockey players to those rinks? Are local YMCAs going to let high school swim teams in the pools? These are questions the MPA and state are asking now, and the answers they receive will shape a winter season.

There are reasons to be optimistic. Student-athletes across the state participated in summer travel leagues this year without COVID-19 outbreaks. A recent study by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health suggests high school sports did not play a factor in the spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin this fall. While we’ve had cases in Maine schools, we haven’t seen an outbreak among team members. That’s encouraging.

That said, not yet doesn’t mean impossible. Transmission can happen even when following all protocols, and that will be a big factor in determining when and if winter sports are played in Maine. While superintendents and school boards were concerned with just getting their schools open and keeping them open this fall, many will still pause when it comes to opening gyms to visiting teams. We can say look at the science over and over, but fear has a way to superseding and kicking data to the curb. All the science and data doesn’t mean a thing if you’re the superintendent dealing with an outbreak at your school.

Right now, the best thing anybody who wants a high school winter sports season in Maine can do is wear a mask when out and maintain social distancing. The best case for allowing winter sports to proceed can only be made if COVID-19 cases in Maine begin to decline. Seventy-six cases Wednesday. Reverse that, and you have a shot at something.

 

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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