Jaz Vanderhoof, left, of Thornton Academy and Samantha Moore of Portland High wear masks while competing in the mile race during a meet at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham on Monday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Unlike last winter, high school track and field athletes are getting the chance to compete against other schools this season. But they are presented with challenges that make this indoor season look much different from those prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

Athletes are required to wear masks during meets, and fans will not be allowed. Some teams will have fewer meets than in the past, and there will be less opportunity for teams to practice in field houses at nearby colleges. Both the University of Southern Maine and Bowdoin College require proof of vaccination for athletes, coaches and meet officials. Bates and Colby colleges are not allowing any high school groups this winter.

Coaches across southern Maine say the biggest challenge, by far, is the requirement for athletes to wear masks, a mandate from local school superintendents. The mask mandate caused Western Maine Conference officials on Tuesday to decide not to hold the 2-mile run at some meets.

“It’s brutal to race in a mask indoors, but in a distance like the 2-mile, it’s almost tortuous,” said Greely Athletic Director David Shapiro, the WMC league liaison.

WMC officials and those in the Southwestern Maine Activities Association also decided not to allow fans in the USM field house because of the UMaine System’s mandate that all guests at events of 250 or more people show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test. Shapiro said the logistics in having someone verify all spectators have that proof was too difficult logistically. 

Because there won’t be fans, meets will be streamed online. For the SMAA, the livestreams will be shown on me.milesplit.com. That’s also a possibility for WMC meets, Shapiro said.


Coaches worry the mask mandate will be difficult for running events longer than 200 meters, and many say it will impede high-level performances.

Given that half of the Bonny Eagle team is made up of distance runners, the mask mandate will be a hardship for most of its runners, said Bonny Eagle Girls Coach Ryan Dyer. So starting this week, his team is wearing masks in workouts outside to get used to them.

A pack of masked runners compete at an SMAA meet at the University of Southern Maine on Monday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

When Mt. Ararat Coach Diane Fournier heard of the mask mandate at the Bowdoin field house, she went out for a distance run in a mask to see how hard it would be. She said she was reminded of running at 12,000 feet in Colorado in college.

“It was the same feeling. I was sucking in cloth, but not much air. The kids are putting up with it. But it will affect performance, no question,” Fournier said.

As with all COVID safety protocols, everything is subject to change. And many coaches hope restrictions around masks loosen up for state championship meets. While the Class A meet is scheduled for Feb. 21 at USM, the Class B meet venue for Feb. 19 is up in the air. Bates College held the Class B meet in years prior to the pandemic, but it is closed to high schools events this winter.

“We hope the masks are revisited,” said Gorham Girls Coach John Caterina. “We agree in all field events, keep the masks on. In the events with short bursts, where kids are in lanes and not spread out – in the 55 dash and 55 hurdles – keep masks on. But in events that are more aerobic breathing, training shows it adversely affects their ability to perform.”


Another significant challenge for some teams is finding indoor facilities in which to train. Many high schools have closed hallways after school to allow for additional cleaning because of the pandemic, or to keep crowds down.  

In years past, many of the SMAA schools reserved time to practice at USM at least one day a week, usually more. Some schools, like Cheverus, went to USM as many as two to three times a week. But now time slots are limited. And USM is only allowing field event athletes at practices this winter, not runners.

Jason Hargesheimer of Portland High leads teammate Ben Prestes and the rest of the pack while competing in the 800 meters at USM on Monday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Cheverus Coach John Wilkinson said it will be tricky to train athletes who excel in both a field event and a track event, like senior Frank Morang, a state champion jumper who also excels in the hurdles. Morang’s hard workout day will have to be split, with half done at Cheverus and half at USM.

“We’ve got to be creative. It’s not the best workout to have a gap in between the two,” Wilkinson said. 

Cape Elizabeth is not allowed to use the school hallways during the pandemic. Coach Doug Worthley prefers the spongier gym floor, anyway, but his allotted time there is limited – so he’ll have to train his team outdoors more this season. Given winter in Maine, that’s an uncertain option.

All the coaches are keeping an eagle eye on the weather. We’ll run outside on the track as long as possible. Unless it’s zero degrees,” Worthley said.


Participation numbers across southern Maine are down as much as 25 percent in the SMAA, Caterina said. There also has been a significant decline in the WMC, according to Shapiro. It’s unclear what effect the mask mandate, proof of vaccination or limits on indoor practice time has had on the participation drop.

And despite the many known challenges, some coaches said they worry more about the unknowns: COVID cases that could put a team in quarantine or force meets to be canceled.

“No one likes to practice all the time. The competitions give them the opportunity to push themselves and get out of their comfort zone, to see how good they can be,” said Scarborough Coach Derek Veilleux, whose boys team has won nine of the last 11 Class A indoor titles.

The York team is not able to practice in the school halls during the pandemic. So the Wildcats have transitioned to using the outdoor track – with plans to work together to shovel it, when needed. But Coach Ted Hutch said the uncertainty around future meets this indoor season is a greater hardship.

“Everyone is pitching in. But it’s triage. We’ve just got to keep the patient alive,” Hutch said of his team’s fitness. “We’re just praying every day we’ll get to compete.”

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