Fans cheer during the Class A North girls basketball final between Gardiner and Hampden Academy on Feb. 21, 2020 at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Winslow High School girls basketball coach Brenda Beckwith attended a basketball tournament in Oklahoma this summer.

“They wore masks (on the court). It was not a problem,” Beckwith said. “I didn’t see it affect play at all.”

The Maine Principals’ Association’s Sports Medicine Committee met Wednesday to discuss the prospects for a winter season during the coronavirus pandemic. The committee also reviewed initial feedback from key state agencies — including that some athletes could be expected to wear masks at all times in order to play approved winter sports.

However, the MPA said that Gov. Janet Mills’ executive order requiring face masks be worn in public will not immediately apply to high school athletes competing in fall sports, although that could soon change should the state’s Community Sports Guidelines get updated.

High school winter sports coaches in central Maine expressed no concerns should wearing masks be required.

“If it means having a basketball season, I have no problem wearing a mask,” Beckwith said.

“Whatever it takes,” Cony boys basketball coach TJ Maines added. “Our program will be all-in. I talked to a couple guys, and they said ‘Coach, we’ll do whatever we have to to play.'”

Thursday morning, University of Maine women’s basketball coach Amy Vachon used her Twitter account to offer advice to the state’s high school coaches.

Dan Shaw, of Mountain State School Equipment, and Augusta Civic Center staffers work to install one of the new basketball goals in the arena on Feb. 12, 2020. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“If the requirement to play this winter is to wear masks. Do it. Don’t question it. It’s worth it to play,” Vachon wrote. “Our team has been wearing masks during every practice/lift since August. Sometimes that’s 3 hr (sic)practices. It’s worth it. Stay safe & play!”

Maines said he and his team are also willing to follow any modifications to the rules of play. One already mentioned would allow just four players lined up on the key during a free throw. Maines said he spoke with a coach in Massachusetts, who said 3-on-3 basketball could be considered there.

While the modifications allow for four players in the lane during free throw attempts, Brunswick boys basketball coach Todd Hanson thinks they should lower the total to three.

“Kids are taught from Day 1 to box out the shooter,” Hanson said. “With this proposal, there’s no one to do that.”

Hanson said he favors an odd-number of players — for example, three — be allowed in the key for free throws.

Whatever the rules are, Maines hopes a start date is set soon.

“Give us a date where you think we can start and we can work toward it,” Maines said. “Whatever we can do to get into the gym, we’ll do it… I think it’s a short-sighted person who wouldn’t do this.”

Messalonskee girls basketball coach Keith Derosby said his wife, Elaine Derosby, is the varsity softball coach and junior varsity field hockey coach at Edward Little High School in Auburn. He’s seen up close what it’s like for a team to have a lost season, and a season played with tight restrictions.

“I think kids will do what’s asked of them. Their desire to be a part of (the team) is really great,” Derosby said. “If the choice is nothing or wear a mask, they’ll say ‘give me the mask.'”

Beckwith said she’d like to have questions on the possible season answered. For example, if somebody at an upcoming opponent tests positive for COVID-19, would Winslow still play that school?

“Anything they do to enforce safety, I’m all for it. I would love to coach this season. I love basketball,” Beckwith said.

Even the two outdoor winter sports, Alpine and Nordic skiing, could face a mask mandate.

Mark Cyr, the Alpine coach at Mt. Blue, said that won’t be a problem. Many skiers already wear some sort of face covering to protect from the cold and wind, Cyr said. His team purchased personalized coverings for their necks and faces last season.

“We bought them because the kids like them,” Cyr said. “It protects exposed skin on cold days.”

Cyr said skiers will be allowed to take off face coverings in the starting gate, but must put it back on in the corral at the finish line. This fall, Mt. Blue High School chose not to participate in interscholastic athletics. As of Thursday afternoon, Cyr had not heard from school officials regarding plans for winter sports.

 

The Rangeley and Valley girls basketball teams compete during a Class D South semifinal game last season at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“There’s no talk of it. I coach the golf team, too, and I was surprised this fall,” Cyr said. “It will be three seasons in a row if we don’t have a winter.”

Brunswick indoor track and field coach Dan Dearing said he knows his team would be willing to follow the recommended proposals in order to have a season.

“I believe we have to treat the mask as a necessary piece of equipment right now. The more athletes wear masks during practice and high levels of conditioning they will adapt to wearing them,” Dearing said.

“Give us a little time and we will be used to the modifications,” added Richmond girls basketball head coach Mike Ladner.

Hanson was just glad to see a proposal.

“I really appreciate that we are at the least putting a proposal together,” Hanson said. “Based on how other sports have adjusted to some tweaks in their rules, I believe that basketball could adjust to what’s being asked.”

AJ Kavanaugh, head coach of the Mt. Ararat/Lisbon/Morse ice hockey program, thinks that the players would adapt to new rules.

The Forest Hills and Valley girls basketball teams compete in a Class D South quarterfinal game on Feb. 15, 2020 at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“Wearing a mask while playing is something I’ve seen youth leagues and other states do,” Kavanaugh said. “It’s less than ideal, but kids who have been playing with a mask on seem to be doing OK.”

The social distancing on the bench is another story, but Kavanaugh is willing to adjust.

“Bench areas are limited in size and in some of the rinks it will be physically impossible to keep teams in the bench area while maintaining the required social distancing. That being said, I’m sure we are all willing to be creative,” Kavanugh added.

While everyone involved is willing to adjust to have a season, another question is if the modification will have an effect on the outcome of a contest. Coaches have differing opinions.

“Both teams are playing under the same rules, so it shouldn’t be a huge deal,” said Sam Farrell, head coach of the Brunswick girls basketball team.

 

The Times Record staff writer Eli Canfield contributed to this story.

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