AUBURN – Opening day of the high school sports season is a hodgepodge of contradictions, to begin with.

There’s camaraderie and competition.

Exhilaration and exhaustion.

A desire to eat and drink everything in sight when practice is over, contrasted with the overwhelming need for a nap.

No surprise, then, that area football, soccer, field hockey, cross country and golf teams experienced the full spectrum of Maine summer weather in the space of Monday’s first extended session.

“It rained steady for about 20 minutes in our morning session,” said Edward Little coach Darren Hartley. “I was bellyaching because the hogs were just starting to really get the lather going, and then we had a shower to cool ’em off. So the conditioning waned this morning.”

Most soccer and football teams celebrate the first week of summer workouts with double practices.

Teams convene at an hour when many teenagers prefer to be tucked securely in their beds, sweat it out until 11 a.m. or noon, then return to school for a second helping at the dinner hour.

In the Lewiston-Auburn area Monday, that encore coincided with a violent thunderstorm and a torrential downpour that left the EL soccer field surrounded by puddles and its adjacent parking lot temporarily flooded.

Maine Principals’ Association rules prohibit schools from allowing a game or practice to start or resume until 30 minutes after the last visible lightning.

“It was an interesting day weather-wise,” said EL girls’ soccer coach Val Brown. “It was a good, overcast morning for their fitness, strength and conditioning for the hour this morning. This afternoon we got a late start because of the lightning rule.”

Thanks to a 7:30 a.m. start, the soccer team enjoyed relatively cool conditions for its first-day fitness test: A six-lap (1.5 mile) trek around the track that players are expected to complete in 12 minutes or less.

Any school or team venturing closer to noon basked in blinding sunshine and high humidity.

“Back from summer on the beach,” said junior co-captain Katie St. Hilaire. “But if you do a lot of sports, it’s easy to stay in shape.”

After the morning wake-up call, Brown sends the players off to their respective jobs, pools or hammocks until 4 p.m., when they’re scheduled to return for a more technical, two-hour soccer practice every day this week.

With renewed emphasis on heat exhaustion due to a smattering of deaths nationwide this decade – from high school athletes all the way up to NFL lineman Korey Stringer – athletes are careful to listen to their bodies during pre-season workouts.

“I eat two meals between practice and try to make sure it’s a good meal, not garbage,” said senior co-captain Alice Read. “No soda. Don’t lie out in the sun, either, because that takes all your energy.”

Hartley gave the football team similar advice after its second session ended with receding daylight, swarming mosquitoes and an autumnal breeze as a backdrop.

“Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate,” he cautioned. “And eat the right stuff. Don’t make it a double-cheeseburger and fries. That stuff’s not going to do you any good.”

The MPA updated practice rules prior to last season, mandating that the first two days of football practice take place without pads and days three and four with only shoulder pads and no contact below the waist.

Some coaches bristled at the restrictions, but Hartley believes in the new system.

“It’s a daunting thing to play football, but with the acclimation period, that’s a good thing for football,” said the Red Eddies’ second-year boss.

“These kids are out here in their helmets, a t-shirt and shorts. We’re flying around. It’s not like we’re pounding them on the (blocking) sled. We’re just working on skills and fundamentals.”

And no extra charge for the cold shower, either.



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