Maine’s high school sports season was canceled last spring because of the pandemic, but teams will compete in playoffs and state championships this spring for the first time since the 2019-20 winter season. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

The 2021 Maine high school spring season will have a championship glow. And fans will be able to watch in person.

The Maine Principals’ Association, working with state agencies, announced Friday that it will be able to hold regional and state championships for baseball, softball, lacrosse, tennis, and outdoor track and field. They will be the first high school postseason tournaments held since the winter of 2019-20.

The entire 2020 spring season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. And while teams were able to play a modified regular-season schedule in the fall and winter of this school year, no regional or state championships were held.

“It’s a relief, almost,” said Mike Burnham, executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association. “We are certainly moving in the right direction.”

The association is able to offer championships because the state modified the risk levels in its Community Sports Guidelines earlier Friday. Sports that are considered “moderate risk,” such as baseball, softball, lacrosse and track, now will be able to include “in-person competitions between teams in different geographic areas within Maine.” Tennis is regarded as a “low risk” sport and is able to conduct competition against teams from other states.

A news release from the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, which oversees the Community Sports Guidelines, stated that “the Maine Principals’ Association has committed to aligning its guidance for school sports with this revised guidance for community sports.”

For spring sports, that means having an almost-normal season. Pitchers and catchers will begin practicing on March 22, with the rest of spring athletes starting practice on March 29. Competitions are scheduled to begin on April 15.

“Going into the spring and aligning with the Community Sports Guidelines, I believe we will have a full spring sports season, with some restrictions remaining,” Burnham said. “It will provide an opportunity for those activities and those kids to have a full season culminating in regional and state championships.”

Burnham said those “restrictions” will include wearing masks and remaining physically distanced. Fans will be allowed to attend outside games, once again adhering to statewide gathering limits and following COVID-19 safety protocols.

Last Friday, Gov. Janet Mills announced a change in the gathering limits that will become effective March 26. For outdoor activities, the gathering limit will increase to 75 percent of permitted occupancy. Beginning May 24, it will increase to 100 percent.

Burnham said there was discussion about how to determine permitted occupancy at a high school baseball field, where fans tend to spread along the fence surrounding the field. In the end, he said, “They just don’t want people sitting on top of each other.”

For high school administrators and coaches, the news was met with excitement and, in some cases, surprise.

“It’s usually a bright spot every year being able to play outside in the spring,” Marshwood Athletic Director Rich Buzzell said. “This is even better. For everyone, this is a little bit of normalcy coming back into our lives.”

Tom Griffin, the long-time softball coach at Scarborough – which has won the last three Class A state titles – did not expect Friday’s news. He was sure that teams would be able to play a league schedule, maybe even for a league championship, but did not expect anything more.

“To me this means the girls have something to kind of fight for,” he said. “They’re athletes, they’re competitors. They want to try to accomplish something.”

Thornton Academy track and field coach George Mendros was shocked to learn there would be state championships this spring.

“That’s amazing,” he said. “I honestly didn’t think track and field would have a championship this year.”

Even with Friday’s green light, Mendros remains mindful of the safety protocols related to the pandemic.

“Obviously, we can’t forget about what got us into this,” Mendros said. “People need to mask, and social distance. But I think the fact the results of the vaccines are showing up to be excellent, and more doses will be given out between now and June – I would not be surprised if the high school kids get vaccinated by then.”

South Portland’s baseball team was clearly the team to beat in 2020, but the season was never played. Now coach Mike Owens will have a roster of players who have never been in a varsity game. Still, he said, this is exciting news.

“I was excited just to have the opportunity to play, regardless of whether there was a chance to win the whole thing or not,” he said. “But it’s nice to have that carrot there for the kids. They all ask the same question, ‘Are we going to have a real season?’ I think they’re going to be ecstatic.”

Mike D’Andrea had his first season as baseball coach at Falmouth wiped out last spring. This news, he said, is bigger than just baseball.

“This has been really difficult on the world, not just Falmouth, Maine,” he said. “So I know it’s a bigger deal to gain some kind of normalcy to our lives and get it back. So I’m happy for the baseball and spring sports kids, for all the student-athletes and their families.

“But I’m also really happy that we’re getting back to normal. We can see the light at end of tunnel with vaccinations. I think this is a step in that direction. … It’s a baby step, but we’ll take it.”

Gary Stevens, the athletic director at Thornton Academy, and Joe Schwartzman, the athletic director at Kennebunk, said the issue now becomes transportation because of the limited number of students allowed on busses.

“There are still some details we have to work out in terms using social distancing for crowds, and there’s only so many people can you can put on a bus,” Stevens said. “There’s a lot of logistical challenges we’re going to have to navigate. But the good news is that they are purely logistical challenges rather than restrictions.”

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming contributed to this report.


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