Athletic directors at St. Joseph’s College in Standish and the University of Southern Maine in Gorham are making plans for winter sports events. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

In the coming weeks, local NCAA Division III colleges hope to have their sports teams back in play.

The University of Southern Maine in Gorham and St. Joseph’s College in Standish are looking to start playing basketball and hockey games soon, with USM also holding track meets at its field house.

They would join a handful of Maine’s small colleges, including Husson University in Bangor and the University of Maine at Farmington, who are looking to play anywhere from two to six games this winter. Husson has already announced six-game schedules for its men’s and women’s basketball teams, along with two meets for its indoor track teams.

Most Maine colleges had their conference winter seasons canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Little East Conference, of which USM is a member, is still playing, albeit with limited participation.

Al Bean, USM’s athletic director, said he is attempting to firm up game dates for basketball and hockey, with each team playing up to six games. He hopes to have the first game on campus on Feb. 12.

“We’re trying to finalize everything, we’ve got a couple of schools penciled in that are still iffy, ” he said. “We’re just trying to build a little competition to give our athletes a chance to play under safe conditions.”

Will Sanborn, the athletic director at St. Joseph’s College, said he hopes to have schedules finalized in the next couple of weeks, with games beginning in March. All games would likely involve Maine colleges.

“People might look at it and ask why are we doing that?” said Sanborn. “It’s not leading to a conference championship or an NCAA (tournament) berth or anything like that. But it’s just so important for these kids to compete and feel a little normalcy. Going through what they have, and they have given up a lot, my feeling is anything we can give them is a plus. They’re going to practice and it’s like they’re playing the World Series. They’re so excited just to practice.”

The University of New England in Biddeford is also considering its options but has yet to finalize any schedules, according to Director of Athletics Heather Davis.

“Our goal is to provide competitive opportunities for our winter sport student-athletes, if we are able to do so with mutually agreed-upon safety protocols and established risk mitigation strategies,” she said in a statement.

USM received the go-ahead to play a modified winter schedule on Nov. 30. Since then, Bean has been working with area schools and out-of-state schools within a certain travel radius to put together schedules. It hasn’t been easy.

“We all have different scenarios we’re dealing with,” said Bean. “This is a time where you have to be about as flexible as you can possibly be. We’re hoping to give our athletes a chance to compete. Obviously there are lots of conditions to work through, lots of protocols and lots of testing.”

Julie Davis, the athletic director at UMaine-Farmington, said having both schools on the same page when scheduling events is extremely important right now.

“Everyone understands it is touch and go,” said Davis. “Even with all the proper planning, everything needs to be in place day-of (competition) with both opponents and all support staff (officials and so on).”

She hopes to start games by the end of February into March.

USM’s Bean envisions his basketball and hockey teams playing through March. He also hopes to be able to hold a couple of track meets on campus. While the state has an indoor gathering limit of only 50, USM officials have come up with a plan to make it work. The school’s field house is connected to the gymnasium through a walkway.

“We will use the gym as overflow space,” said Bean. “We will run some events in the field house. Once those events are completed, those athletes will leave the field house and be replaced by new ones who were in the gym. It will be a rotation of athletes and we will keep them physically distanced from each other.”

Bean is unsure if the hockey teams will be able to play at the USM Ice Arena because of the indoor gathering limits.

The spring season is another matter. “The spring is still an unknown,” said Bean.

Sanborn said the Great Northeast Athletic Conference, of which St. Joseph’s College is a member, will likely make an announcement on spring sports within the next two weeks.

The Commonwealth Coast Conference, of which UNE is a member, is slated to begin its spring season on March 27 “pending the (Board of Directors’) review of health guidance and travel restrictions,” according to a news release.

The New England Small College Athletic Conference, which includes Bowdoin, Colby and Bates, recently said in a release that “after a careful review, the NESCAC presidents have agreed that conditions will need to improve significantly in order to conduct conference competition this spring.”

The University of Maine – the state’s only NCAA Division I school – released spring season schedules on Thursday for baseball and softball (as well as traditional fall sports field hockey, women’s soccer and men’s and women’s cross country, whose fall seasons were canceled), Even there, however, officials caution that final determination on whether the Black Bears will play is still pending approval from university leaders.

Sanborn is hopeful that the spring season will be salvaged. The 2020 spring season ended quickly when the pandemic first began.

“For the spring kids, to lose two seasons in a row would be a tragedy,” he said.


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