When Nokomis Regional High School boys basketball coach Ryan Martin conducted his first full team practice Monday afternoon, he reminded his players how important it is to follow COVID-19 safety protocols.

Martin knows firsthand how dangerous the disease can be — he recently recovered from the coronavirus.

“I had all the symptoms. You can check them all off. I had them all except I didn’t get a fever,” Martin said, adding the biggest symptom he encountered was extreme fatigue. “I still can’t taste or smell anything. I was actually pretty sick. It took me two weeks to start feeling better. It wiped me out.”

Monday marked the first day high school winter sports teams in Maine were allowed to conduct full practices for a shortened season that’s scheduled to begin next week. The Maine Principals’ Association allowed winter sports teams to hold skills and drills workouts in early December.

However, schools in counties that were given a yellow designation from the state — Androscoggin, Cumberland, Oxford, and York — were unable to begin athletics. The Department of Education suggests that in a yellow designation, schools may want to suspend extracurricular activities and sports.

Martin said the coronavirus came into his home via his children, who contracted it at a daycare facility. Martin found out on Dec. 11 he tested positive for the virus. His wife and two children have recovered, along with Martin. The illness caused Martin to miss many of the Warriors skill workouts, but he’s excited to be in the gym with his team now.

“My message to our players is, this is serious. Wear a mask. Practice social distancing. It’s not fun at all,” Martin said. “It’s great to get back in there. The kids have that grateful feeling to be in the gym again. Even in the gym with a mask on, it feels normal.”

After taking part in individual skill building exercises and conditioning drills over the last few weeks, basketball coaches and players across the region were excited to get into full team practices.

“I think as a whole, kids need it, and I know I personally need it for a sense of normalcy,” said Winthrop boys basketball coach Todd MacArthur, whose team won its second straight Class C title in February. “One of the things we always like to do at our practices is competition. We always stress about competition and always try to win competitions, whether it’s a shooting game or it’s us working on our defensive sequence.”

“I think excited doesn’t really cover it,” said Skowhegan junior Jaycie Christopher, the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A Girls Basketball Player of the Year last season.

When workouts began Dec. 7, Christopher and her Skowhegan teammates were on the sidelines, as Somerset County was still designated yellow by the state. Five days later, Christopher said she could hardly contain her excitement when Somerset County moved to green.

Maranacook boys basketball coach Travis Magnusson directs practice Monday in Readfield. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“I think I could have run up and down the hallways (at school),” Christopher said. “I’ve been wearing a lot of green. That’s been my good luck charm.”

Skowhegan girls basketball coach Mike LeBlanc said the River Hawks’ first practice would focus on defense.

“Hopefully, we developed some shooters. We took a lot of shots (during the skills workouts),” LeBlanc said.

Christopher is the only starter returning to the River Hawks’ lineup.

“This week will be really big in getting us ready. We’ll have time to figure out how to play together,” Christopher said.

Playing together isn’t as big of a concern for the Maranacook boys, who return nearly the entirety of the team that made the Class B final last year. The Black Bears have been doing individual drills for nearly a month, but senior guard Cash McClure said another page was turned Monday.

“It definitely feels like a new chapter,” he said. “The energy was pretty good in practice today. Even though we’re kind of rusty just playing basketball, it was still good for the guys to get up and down, and run full transition drills where we can play live defense. … It’s completely different when you’re actually playing. I think for a lot of the guys, they were really itching to get to playing actual basketball, finally.”

Hall-Dale junior guard KK Wills said she had been looking forward to returning to team action. The Bulldogs ran 5-on-5 and 3-on-3 drills as part of breaking in a new offense.

“Just being back on the court, it’s like my home, my second home,” she said. “It feels like the normal game again. … I was excited about being able to scrimmage, and play almost actual basketball, the real deal.”

There’s no MPA tournament this year, but Wills said that didn’t dampen the spirits Monday.

The Richmond girls basketball team partakes in defensive drills during practice Monday at Richmond High School. Eli Canfield/The Times Record

“It’s still exciting,” she said. “It’s a little disappointing, though, that we won’t be able to play at the Civic Center and stuff. But it’s still exciting that we’re actually able to play and be out here.”

The Richmond girls basketball team practiced in the gym Monday for the first time all season.

“We felt fortunate that we were able to get into the gym for some sessions for the past few weeks, but now that we’re able to practice as a team I’m very excited and ready to go,” said senior captain Macy Carver, a center.

Coach Mike Ladner was excited to get things going.

“We haven’t been able to work on any defense, so that’s the first thing we’ll focus on (Monday),” Ladner said.

With just 12 players in the program, Richmond will be a young team looking to gain valuable experience and improve their team chemistry.

“We have a really good group. We’ll use this year as a stepping block as we build for the future,” said sophomore forward Kara Briand.

Kennebec Journal staff writer Drew Bonifant and The Times Record staff writer Eli Canfield contributed to this report.

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