A few fans watch a preseason boys basketball game Tuesday between Erskine Academy and Hall-Dale High School at the Augusta Civic Center. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

High school basketball fans are returning to gymnasiums across Maine, although many schools will limit numbers as the spread of COVID-19 continues to intensify.

As a new season tips off Friday night, fans will be permitted into some gyms and prohibited from others due to differing spectator policies. Fans were prohibited from attending games last season, which saw abbreviated schedules and no state tournament.

That changes this season, with the Maine Principals’ Association once again offering state tournaments in all five classes — AA, A, B, C and D. But the sport’s return to normalcy will again have to wait at least another season, as evidenced by who can — and can’t — attend games this winter.

Cony, Maranacook, Winslow, Mt. Blue, Monmouth Academy and Hall-Dale high schools are prohibiting fans from opposing teams into their gyms. Other schools — Waterville, Erskine Academy, Gardiner, Messalonskee, and Lawrence — will allow visiting fans in some capacity.

Winthrop High School is capping capacity at its basketball games to 300 fans, regardless of school affiliation. Tickets must be purchased online to allow for contact tracing, according to Athletic Director Joel Stoneton.

Spectators will also be required to wear protective masks while attending indoor sporting events at most schools, according to local athletic directors.


“As we head into the winter months, we’re trying to keep our Cony/Augusta community within itself,” Cony Athletic Director Jon Millett said. “We’ve basically shut the building off to people who aren’t directly related or involved with our school community, or an athletic competition, or a music competition, or whatever. … We’re on the conservative side. We’re erring on the side of safety.”

Gardiner Athletic Director Nate Stubbert said he had planned to allow only home fans into indoor sporting events. Enforcing that policy, however, presented logistical challenges, so Gardiner has decided to open its doors to all fans.

“After a month of trying to put together a system that would allow for only home spectators to come in, and keep track of it, it became extremely difficult and also expensive,” Stubbert said. “Now, we had to place and hire people because we also play hockey at the (Camden National Bank Ice Vault in Hallowell). We swim at the (Kennebec Valley YMCA in Augusta).

“We had to hire people to go to those venues and check passes, which is an additional amount that we didn’t have budgeted for. We had to print something like 3,000 passes to hand out to our athletes to give out to their parents or whoever. It became logistically really difficult to manage.”

Stubbert added: “We all want to see as many spectators at our games, we all want our kids to experience that. They’ve lost so much. I felt it was the time after we had a couple preseason games under our belts, after we had a couple of middle school games under our belt, I thought it was the right time to make that request to the school board, and they accepted it.”

Mike Gray, coach of the Gardiner girls basketball team, said kids were thrilled to be able to attend games again across all sports.


“They wanted to see their friends play. They wanted to be loud, rowdy and support their friends,” Gray said. “That was, to me, that was the biggest thing the girls were excited about.”

Some schools tried to get creative while limiting spectators at the same time. Lawrence High School in Fairfield, for example, is allowing each of its athletes to bring up to four fans to games. Visiting athletes can bring two. The school will also select 25 students through a lottery to attend a basketball game.

Brunswick’s Lexi Morin, left, tries to get around Gardiner defender Emily Grady as masked fans look on Dec. 1 during a preseason scrimmage game at Gardiner Area High School. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“We are splitting up (the fans) — home fans are on one side of the gym, away fans will be on the stands behind their team’s bench,” Lawrence Athletic Director David Packard said. “Try to separate them as much as we can that way.”

Like Lawrence, Winslow High School is also allowing its athletes to bring four guests to games.

Mt. Blue High School Athletic Director Chad Brackett said 100 of its students can attend each game. Each athlete can bring up to six fans, and spectator groups will be placed in pods throughout the gym.

“It was a plan proposed to the school board, in a way for them to feel comfortable about people being in the gym and at games,” Brackett said. “It was just designed so family members could come in, sit near each other, but keep some safe space away from other families that are there to watch the game.


“The original proposal was four per student-athlete, but when we did some measuring in the gym, we came to the conclusion that we could get up to six per student-athlete to come see the game.”

Messalonskee High School in Oakland is also allowing its athletes to bring six fans to each game. At Erskine Academy in South China, fans will also be separated.

“Most games, I think we’ll probably be fine with the amount of fans that come in naturally,” Erskine Athletic Director Chuck Karter said. “Some of the games, like Cony, because there’s three boys games (freshman, junior varsity and varsity), I’m hoping the people that come and watch their team play and then leave.

“I hate to say it that way. We don’t want to have to close the visiting fan sections. We’d like everyone to come in and get a chance to see their kids play.”

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. 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.