Portland High baseball Coach Mike Rutherford says of the hand’s-off period: “(Players) just have to come in ready to go (when practices start on April 27). We can’t use those two weeks to get in shape. They can play catch in their yard, they can catch ground balls in the street.” Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The Maine Principals’ Association sent a memo this week to its member schools clarifying that spring sports teams cannot participate in any official team activities right now.

Last Friday, the MPA delayed the start of the spring sports season to April 27 because of concerns over the coronavirus outbreak. The season was supposed to begin next Monday for pitchers and catchers on baseball and softball teams.

On Monday, the MPA detailed exactly what teams can and cannot do during that delay. The memo stated that this time should be treated like “the hands-off time between seasons and during the two-week period in early August.”

It continued, “There should not be any organized team activity between now and the start of the spring season. Coaches should not be organizing individual workout plans for their athletes and there should be no expectation that athletes participate in any type of an organized training program.”

“There were questions,” said MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham. “Schools were asking us, ‘Can kids get together? Can coaches give kids individual workout plans?’

“Kids can work out on their own,” he said. “If a couple of kids want to play catch, that’s all right. It’s organized team activities that can’t be done.”

That would include, said Burnham, so-called captain’s practices, where the team gets together to work out without the coach.

“Anything that is designed for a team workout would be a violation,” said Burnham. “Whether by boosters, parents or captains.”

Mike Rutherford, the veteran baseball coach at Portland High, said it is important that his players understand the situation. While he cannot organize workouts for them, he will give them this advice: Be ready to practice whenever it starts.

“I’m going to assume we’re starting up April 27,” said Rutherford. “They will probably give us two weeks before we play a game. … The kids are going to have to come in ready to go. Pitchers are going to have to be throwing on their own, infielders taking ground balls, outfielders taking fly balls. They have to do it on their own. I can’t organize anything.

“I’m sure small groups of kids will. They just have to come in ready to go. We can’t use those two weeks to get in shape. They can play catch in their yard, they can catch ground balls in the street.”

An abbreviated preseason will cause Rutherford to change the way he picks his team as well. He said 55 players signed up for baseball. That’s 10 more than he has uniforms for. He’ll have to make cuts and he’ll have to replace six starting positions in the field. Portland canceled a trip to Florida in which the Bulldogs were going to play eight games during the April vacation week.

“This is uncharted territory,” said Rutherford. “We’re living a little bit of history right now. And the kids have been great so far.”

Rutherford and Thornton Academy softball coach John Provost said the MPA has acted responsibly throughout this public health crisis.

“They’ve been on top of it,” said Provost, who also canceled a trip to Florida for his team, which includes eight seniors. “They’ve tried to stay proactive and stay ahead of it. And they’re not withholding information.”

Still, Provost isn’t sure the MPA can salvage a spring season. “Right now we’re facing bigger issues than softball and spring sports,” he said.

That’s why the MPA postponed a meeting scheduled for Monday that included members of each spring sports committee.  They were expected to talk about what an abbreviated spring sports season will look like. They will meet, electronically, sometime late next week.

“I just think we can have a more informed conversation then,” said Burnham.

Gary Stevens, the athletic director at Thornton Academy, is also the chair of the tennis committee. He welcomed Monday’s postponement.

“Things changed over the weekend,” said Stevens. “Schools closed. There are more cases (of COVID-19) here in Maine. Given those things, plus a lot more uncertainties, we need more information to make good decisions.”

Stevens said the committees have to discuss how long the preseason will be, how many games the regular season would be and whether the playoffs could be extended beyond the original closing date. One problem, he said, is that he doesn’t know if it is possible to get later dates at some of the tournament sites.

The MPA was, for example, breaking the South baseball and softball playoffs into two sites this year: St. Joseph’s College and the University of Southern Maine.

“All those things need to be decided,” said Stevens. “We need more information before we think about defining what the spring season is going to look like.”

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