Pitchers and catchers on South Portland High’s baseball team work out in the school gymnasium on Thursday. Full team practices are allowed to begin on Monday, and the regular season can start on April 15, but schedules for spring teams across the state are in flux. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Normally, Maine’s high school spring sports schedules would have been released about three or four weeks ago. Athletic directors would have transportation lined up, and coaches will have already started formulating plans for the season.

This year? With the coronavirus pandemic still forcing changes to everyone’s daily routine, schedules may never be completely settled. But they are being formulated. And they will look different.

Joe Schwartzman, the Kennebunk High athletic director, was only partly joking when he said he was on his “20th version” of the girls’ lacrosse schedule for the Southwestern Maine Athletics Association.

“I’ve been working on the schedule literally for two weeks,” he said. “And that’s only for the girls. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to change it.”

Added York Athletic Director Jeff Oliver, “I haven’t seen many schedules that haven’t changed every day.”

But, Oliver quickly added, “It’s all positive. It’s been a lot more work than it usually is, but we’ll take it.”

Transportation is a big issue for every school. Several athletic directors noted that they will only have one bus available for sports at the end of the school day, with others becoming available once all the students have gone home and the buses have returned. Combined with social distancing restrictions on how many students can be on a bus at the same time, schools may be shuttling one team to a site, then having the bus return to pick up a second team, with the games starting at different times. Teams with large rosters, such as track and field, may need several trips.

That means even though schools can travel outside their counties to play games after the state revised its Community Sports Guidelines on March 12 to allow interstate competition for moderate-risk activities, most schools will once again be grouped in regional pods to minimize travel. The SMAA, for example, has a southern York County pod, a Portland-area pod and a northern York County/Cumberland County pod.

“Even though we’ve opened (the schedules) up and we can play whoever we want, we really can’t because of the busing,” said Freeport Athletic Director Craig Sickels, whose school is in the Western Maine Conference.

That may lead to more night games, or games on days when schools are in remote learning and transportation isn’t an issue.

“Travel is a very critical component,” said Thornton Academy Athletic Director Gary Stevens. “The shorter the bus trips, the more flexibility you will have in scheduling.”

Here are some other things that are known about the spring schedules:

• Crossover games between conferences, used during the modified fall and winter seasons, will again be used, meaning teams from the SMAA, WMC, Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference and Mountain Valley Conference will be play against each other. At York, for example, its tennis teams will compete solely against SMAA opponents, while its other teams will include games against WMC rivals like Freeport and Cape Elizabeth. “It’s amazing the collaboration that goes on and the lengths that the athletic directors will go to to make things happen the way they should happen,” said Freeport’s Sickels. “The Western Maine Conference has been seeking to play crossover games for some time, ever since I can remember, and I’ve been here 27 years. It’s taken the pandemic to make it happen, and hopefully people will see some of the benefits to this and maybe some of these games will continue to be played.”

Finn O’Connell, a South Portland junior, throws a pitch during a workout on Thursday. Teams from the Southwestern Maine Activities Association, including South Portland, have decided to play one weekday game and Saturday doubleheaders this spring. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

• Baseball and softball teams will play doubleheaders on the weekends and some teams will play each other three times. “Again, the biggest concern is transportation,” said South Portland Athletic Director Todd Livingston, who pulled together the SMAA baseball schedule. “We agreed on the premise of one weekday game and doubleheaders on Saturdays. We’ll see how it goes.”

• Lacrosse schedules will be set up not just regionally, but by competitive programs. “Lacrosse is a little different,” said Noble Athletic Director Aaron Watson, who put together the SMAA boys’ lacrosse schedule. “You really don’t want a top-tier team taking the field against one that’s just growing its roots.”

• Track and field will feature a lot of dual meets, especially among schools with large rosters, to stay within the state’s guidelines for gathering limits. At Morse, the Shipbuilders will hold their home meets on Saturdays to ease any transportation issues their opponents might have. “Visiting teams are going to have a lot more flexibility to get buses on weekends,” said Morse Athletic Director Nate Priest.

• Berwick Academy has joined the SMAA as an affiliate member this spring and will compete in the southern York County pod with Traip Academy, York, Wells, Kennebunk, Sanford, Massabesic, Noble and Marshwood. Berwick has formed a co-op softball team with Marshwood. It will field teams in baseball, lacrosse and tennis.

• Sub-varsity and middle school schedules will also be impacted and will likely be formed as the season progresses. “We really have to see what happens,” said Morse’s Priest. “We have scheduled some baseball and softball JV games with Mt. Ararat and Brunswick, which are close by. But otherwise, it’s a wait and see approach.”

• Schools will ultimately decide what days the games will be played. In lacrosse and track, for instance, the schedules simply note a team’s opponents in a particular week. It’s up to the schools to determine what dates those games will be played. A lot of that has to do with available officials.

• While the Maine Principals’ Association has a maximum number of games for each – 16 for baseball and softball, 12 for lacrosse and tennis – there is no minimum limit this spring because officials recognize that schools may be unable to play some games because of COVID-19 protocols, transportation issues or weather. “We’ll be very liberal with changing schedules,” said MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham.

• The return of the MPA’s open tournament was a game changer for many athletic directors. It allowed them to focus on scheduling games against nearby schools rather than trying to find schools that may be worth more Heal points. “That’s a big deal when you’re living in a corner,” said Fryeburg Academy’s Susan Thurston. Her teams will play not only traditional WMC opponents Gray-New Gloucester, Poland, Lake Region and Sacopee Valley, but also Class A Oxford Hills from the KVAC. A softball matchup between Fryeburg and Oxford Hills – two of the state’s top programs – should be a fun one.

Traip Academy’s Mike Roberge said his school is willing to play up a class or two simply to give his students a chance to play.

“I think it’s about giving the kids a positive experience and being able to compete,” he said. “If we have to play Massabesic, Noble, Marshwood instead of Old Orchard Beach, St. Dom’s and Sacopee Valley, we’re willing to do that to make that happen.”

 

 

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