Tackle football will not be played at Maine high schools during the 2020-21 academic year. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Tackle football will not be played at Maine high schools this spring, a decision that disappoints but does not surprise players and coaches whose season was canceled last fall because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A spring football season had been considered as an alternative for players who missed out last fall, but on Thursday the Maine Principals’ Association’s Football Committee decided not to recommend it among this spring’s sports offerings. The committee had concerns about conflicts with traditional spring sports because many football players also play baseball or lacrosse. The panel also noted that tackle football is still classified as a high-risk activity in the state’s Community Sports Guidelines, prohibiting games from being played.

The committee came to its decision after a three-hour conversation, said panel Chairman Fred Lower, the athletic director at Hampden Academy. Lower said that they considered feedback from organizations across the state that was gathered by surveys sent out by the Maine Football Coaches Association, as well as updated guidance from the National Federation of State High School Associations.

“It came down to the fact that we want to make sure the spring season is preserved,” Lower said Friday morning. “It’s a priority for the MPA, where the spring athletes lost everything last year, that we don’t infringe on them at all.”

The 2020 spring season was the first one lost to the pandemic, with teams unable to even hold practices.

While disappointed with the decision, football coaches across the state seemed to understand why it was made.

“Obviously, you feel terrible for the seniors but at the same time, in a way, I’m glad a decision has been made,” Thornton Academy coach Kevin Kezal said. “At least they know now. This thing has dragged out so long. I think now the focus is figuring out what, if anything, we can do for those seniors.”

Kezal added, “I think the focus needs to be, now that we’ve got winter sports going, on the spring sport athletes. They’ve already missed one season. We need to give them a quality spring, something as close to normal as possible. Then we’ll see what happens from there.”

Gardiner coach Pat Munzing had been optimistic about a spring season, but said delays to the winter season chipped away at that hope.

“For me, it seems like we kind of got in a situation where we’re having thoughts of the heart and thoughts of the mind,” Munzing said. “The heart is telling us that we really want to play, because we know the importance of the game of football and what it does for these seniors and their families and the communities. And then the thoughts of the mind are telling us, and kind of reading the cards and seeing where everything is falling … that it may not happen.”

Skowhegan football coach Ryan Libby called the announcement “a blow.”

“I had been preparing myself. We’re going on a year of bad news,” he said. “But I was also hopeful. It’s an outdoor event, people are playing things inside right now.”

Libby said the announcement hurts all classes.

“Not only did we lose the opportunity for the seniors to sort of close it out and finish their career,” he said, “but we lost an opportunity for all the underclassmen to grow.”

Ryan Crockett, a senior at Old Orchard Beach High, said that while the players knew this was a possibility, the decision still comes as a shock.

“There was so much promise with the spring and summer idea,” he said. “Everybody was hopeful and confident about it. There is probably a good reason for (the decision).”

Gardiner senior lineman Quinton Martin said the news wasn’t surprising, but it still came as a “punch in the gut.”

“I’ve been dreaming of my senior football season since I was a freshman,” he said. “It’s definitely a real stinger. We can’t ever get that back. … It’s very hard to know that the last time I was on a football field with all my pads on, that that was my last time doing that in a Gardiner uniform.”

On Sept. 10, the principals association announced that it would be unable to hold football in the fall because of the coronavirus pandemic. It is considered a high-risk activity, one that involves “sustained close contact between participants” with the “high probability that respiratory particles will be transmitted between the participants.”

Maine was one of 15 states (plus the District of Columbia) that did not offer tackle football last fall. The only New England state that held a season was New Hampshire.

The MPA offered non-contact 7 vs. 7 football in the fall and planned to offer tackle football in a bridge season in the spring. Most football coaches said the later the start, the better it would be, and a plan was developed to play into July, after the spring season had ended. In November, the MPA asked the Maine Football Coaches Association to come up with a proposal for a possible season.

On Friday, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association announced it was moving forward with its plan to have a football season that runs from Feb. 22 to April 25, with no postseason.

But, Lower said, football is precluded from being played in Maine because it is classified as a high-risk activity by the state. High-risk activities, which include wrestling, rugby and boxing (the final two not offered by the MPA), can only participate in skills-building exercises and physically distanced team activities.

“Under the (community sports) guidelines, football can’t happen,” he said, adding that “there is no guarantee it would be modified.”

And that’s something that MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham stressed: “There are no guarantees going forward.”

Lower said the Football Committee discussed at length what a season might look like if the guidelines were modified. But within that discussion, they also spoke about the financial impact of a sports season that would bridge two school budget years as well as how playing football into July would affect the traditional summer sports seasons.

It was also noted that guidance from the national federation stipulated that anyone playing spring football should not be involved in any other sport.

Tim Roche, the football coach at Wells, said spring football would definitely impact his school’s traditional spring sports of baseball, lacrosse and track.

“The plan of playing from May to July, I didn’t see how we wouldn’t interfere (with spring sports),” he said. “I feel that you took away baseball, lacrosse and track for a season already (in 2020). Then you’re going to say football is going to play? I don’t think that would look good.

“In a school like us, with under 400 people, I have maybe three kids who don’t play a spring sport. How was I going to have that season if my kids chose spring sports? And if they chose football, which I would want them to, how does that affect baseball, track and lacrosse?”

The MPA’s Burnham agreed. “Mid-May is right in the middle of the spring season,” he said. “Certainly it was going to impact spring sports.”

Mattanawcook coach Brad Bishop said he liked the idea of playing football in the early spring and having other sports pushed to later in the spring. Given Friday’s announcement, however, he said he’s in favor of turning the page to the fall.

“If we were to play three or four games in June or July … what if (quarterback Isaac Hainer) tears his ACL in June, in basically a couple of exhibition games? Well, he’s out for his junior year too, he misses two years of football,” he said. “I’d rather see the schools carrying on, have a good spring season, get everybody outside … and we’ll start over again in August.”

Central Maine Newspapers Staff Writer Drew Bonifant contributed to this report.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: