The players were as enthusiastic as they always are. And so were the coaches.

New to the first basketball workouts of the season this time, however, was a note of apprehension and uncertainty. Teams who took to their gyms Monday were well aware of the circumstances: The season was starting, but there’s no way of knowing for sure when it’s ending.

“I’m anxious about the rug getting pulled out,” Cony boys basketball coach TJ Maines said. “And if it does, it does. I’m thankful they gave us an opportunity to start. I’m hopeful that we can show we’re following the rules and not putting kids in any more risk.”

The skills workouts — ball-handling and shooting drills only — began in counties the designated green by the state on the same day Maine set a new high with 427 COVID-19 cases. The state has a color-coded advisory system to offer recommendations on whether instruction should be remote, hybrid or in-person. Schools in “yellow” counties are encouraged to move to hybrid instruction, with athletics paused.

Four counties in Maine — Oxford, Androscoggin, York and Somerset — are yellow.

Monday marked the first day winter sports teams could begin workouts, although many were in wait-and-see mode as coronavirus numbers rise. The Maine Principals’ Association previously pushed the start of team practices to Jan. 4.

Some student-athletes who could participate Monday acknowledged the shaky ground on which their seasons stand.

“It’s great to be back with the team and the boys that you grew up playing basketball with. It’s a great feeling to get back out there,” Cony junior Brayden Barbeau said. “I’m more concerned about the season getting canceled, because this is just a great sport and I love it.”

Cony senior Bennett Carter said both safety and the uncertainty of the season were on his mind.

TJ Maines directs an individual skills workout session Monday. Monday marked the first day winter sports teams could get together for workouts. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“It’s a combination of both,” he said. “We just want to keep everyone safe, keep our masks on and see where we go from there.”

Carter said he tries to stay optimistic about the chances for a full season.

“We’ll just have to see what happens,” he said. “Anything would be great, coming from where we’re coming from. We could really have no season, so if we have anything, that’s good.”

Maines said he felt safe at practice, which will be shooting, ball-handling and conditioning drills through the end of December.

“I feel safe in the school,” he said, “so why wouldn’t I here?”

Monmouth girls basketball coach Katie McAllister said she saw high spirits from a team determined to stay optimistic.

“I would like to think about anything other (than the season stopping),” she said. “Obviously it’s realistic that it is possible, but I appreciate every second that we get the chance to be in the gym. We’re not going to focus on the negative of the possibility that it’s gone.”

At Maranacook, the Black Bears took the court for the first time since reaching the Class B boys basketball championship game.

“Right now, I’m really glad to be out here. That’s kind of my mindset right now,” senior Tim Worster said. “I’m glad to play. If we get shut down, we get shut down, and it’s disappointing. But I really would like to finish the whole season.”

Maranacook has the core back from a team that took the title game to double overtime. The MPA’s plan for this season doesn’t include playoffs, however, which coach Travis Magnusson said sapped some of the energy from the first day.

“The excitement definitely isn’t there right now,” he said. “We should be celebrating one of the great seasons of their life, and it’s not there right now. We’re happy we’re getting some shots up, we’re getting some open gym time, but there’s not a lot of stuff to do in these first couple of weeks.

“I feel bad for the four or five counties that are yellow, they can’t even do this. I feel bad for those guys too.”

At Forest Hills High School in Jackman, the boys basketball team hoped the 2020-21 season would be one in which it extended its 44-game win streak and worked toward a third straight Class D state championship.

However, athletics at Forest Hills are paused because Jackman is in Somerset County. Forest Hills can resume athletics if and when Somerset County goes “green.”

“It’s really disappointing,” Forest Hills senior guard Parker Desjardins said. “Being in a place like Jackman, there’s not much going on.”

Skowhegan girls basketball coach Mike LeBlanc voiced frustration in Somerset’s yellow designation, which has been in place for more than a month.

“I’m ready to snap,” LeBlanc said. “I’ve contacted our (state) representatives, and they say there’s nothing they can do. Our kids are bummed they can’t play and other kids can.”

Longtime Forest Hills boys basketball coach Anthony Amero said his team is treating the delay as part of an extended offseason. The gym at Forest Hills is being used as an extra cafeteria and classroom space, meaning it is unavailable for basketball practices anyway, Amero said.

“We’re keeping the same goal, and that’s the season never ends,” Amero said. “Do what you can (at home). Get your work in. There will be a state championship someday, and we plan to be in it. You want to defend your title, but people are losing family members. We’re talking about basketball. It’s not life or death.”

Cony High School basketball players participate in an individual skills workout session Monday. Monday marked the first day winter sports teams could get together for workouts. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Desjardins and his brother Mason Desjardins, a sophomore guard, have lifted weights and worked on ball handling and shooting at home.

“We have a nice hoop in our garage. That’s our workout spot,” Desjardins said.

Desjardins finished last season with 1,564 career points, taking Forest Hills’ all-time points lead with 31 in the state championship game win over Machias. In a normal 18-game season and playoffs, Desjardins would have a shot at 2,000 career points. The thought of that individual goal being lost has not influenced Desjardins as he prepares for a season in question.

“We want to win another championship. We’ve been working our butts off the past three or four years. We’re lucky enough to have two Gold Balls,” Desjardins said.

“He’s getting up at 6 a.m., running three miles, lifting, and getting 500 shots up every day,” Amero said of Desjardins.

Along with Skowhegan and Forest Hills, other high schools in Somerset County are Lawrence High of Fairfield, Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield, Madison Area Memorial High School, Carrabec High School of North Anson, and Valley High School of Bingham.

While Somerset County teams wait for the green designation, some schools in green counties are starting slowly. Waterville Senior High School girls basketball coach Rob Rodrigue said he’ll meet with his team virtually this week, with in person workouts set to begin December 14. Messalonskee High School boys basketball coach Jay Dangler said his team will begin workouts Tuesday.

 

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