It was fun, this 7-on-7 season Maine high school football teams played this fall. It was a welcome distraction from the everyday pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic, social distancing, and remote learning.

But…

“It was fun,” Cony football coach BL Lippert said, ‘but it was nothing like a real Friday night football game.”

When the Maine Principals’ Association’s sports medicine committee met in late August, it recommended a plan that would allow all fall sports to proceed. A day later, state officials said they would need to review and approve the MPA’s plan. On Sept. 10, a new plan for fall sports was announced, one that took volleyball and tackle football off the table.

In tackle football’s place, 7-on-7 flag football was offered, with the MPA adding a spring football season was a possibility. Recent discussions revolved around a high school football season starting in May and running into July.

This fall, high school football players, particularly seniors, were glad to play something, with the hope the spring season becomes a reality.

“I was just glad to be able to play, despite all that is going on,” Mason Fitzgerald, a senior running back at Skowhegan Area High School, said. “The way I’m looking at it is we just have more time to prepare for the season in the spring.”

“I’m hopeful there’s something in the spring. It’s always good to remain optimistic,” Jack Begin, a senior linebacker at Cony, said. “The 7-on-7 season was certainly an underwhelming experience. I think the cancellation of the season was really disappointing for everyone. It’s hard because you see how much work everyone has put in since the end of last season. From the players who lifted and conditioned all winter through summer, and Coach Lipp and his staff pepping plays to run this season. It was all kind of lost.”

Some teams saw a decline in participation. At Madison, coach Shawn Bean expected around three dozen players for a regular football season. For 7-on-7, the Bulldogs typically had 12-17 players. A group of Madison seniors took some time to decide if they wanted to play 7-on-7 before ultimately giving it a shot, Bean said.

“My seniors, I think they warmed up to it,” Bean said.

Maranacook receiver Joey Dupont stretches out to make a play in front of Mount View defender Taylor Tuner during an Oct. 16 7-on-7 flag football game in Thorndike. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file photo

At Maranacook, coach Jordan DeMillo was looking forward to building on the team’s success in 2019 in the first season of 8-man football. While the Black Bears graduated some talented players, the returning team showed promise, DeMillo said. Senior Brad Russell told DeMillo to let him know when they could hit again. It was a sentiment echoed by football players across the state.

“I returned a lot of guys. My line, my entire defense out of Garit (Laliberte, a Fitzpatrick Trophy semifinalist last season),” DeMillo said. “I was looking forward to a physical style of football, and 7-on-7 is not that.”

At Cony, Lippert gave his players the go-ahead to try another fall sport.

“I told our kids, ‘If you want to try cross country or golf, do that.’ I encouraged that,” Lippert said.

“There was a lot of excitement going into this year because of our success last season. I feel for the linemen the most because this was their year to shine. Since our freshmen year they’ve been working for this moment, just for a cancelled season.It was hard because they weren’t able to take part in 7-on-7 like we were,” Begin said.

Bean said he tried to keep it light.

“I looked at it as a good experience. I had some linemen who had aspirations towards playing quarterback, so I let them throw a little,” Bean said.

As with other fall sports, 7-on-7 football games were scheduled, postponed, and rescheduled as schools dealt with cases of Covid-19 in their community. At Maranacook, the first three games of the season were cancelled, as well as the season finale. The Black Bears hoped to play nine 7-on-7 games. They played five, DeMillo said.

“It wasn’t a football season. It wasn’t good, Maine football,” DeMillo said. “The MPA had some really tough decisions to make, and I don’t envy that at all.”

DeMillo thinks this lost season could have ramifications for small football programs like his for years to come. Like Madison, Maranacook struggled with player retention. Before the tackle season was cancelled, DeMillo estimated he had close to 30 players eager to join the Black Bears growing 8-man football program. When the 7 on 7 season ended, Maranacook had 13 players, he said.

“I’m praying to whoever I can a football season happens in the spring. Some small 8-man schools are going to be lucky if they keep their programs alive after this one… I really hope we can all rebound,” DeMillo said.

 

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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