Jordan Cummings held out hope that her Edward Little softball team would take the field this spring even as rumors swirled around her that the season would be canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

But when the Maine Department of Education recommended on Tuesday that schools remain closed and remote learning continue through the end of the school year, the Red Eddies’ senior catcher knew the spring season was down to its final strike.

On Thursday, the Maine Principals’ Association made it official, canceling the spring sports season based on the DOE’s and Gov. Janet Mills’ recommendation.

The reality that she would never take the diamond again with fellow seniors Alexis Downs, Caroline Hammond, Anna LeBlanc and Chantel Ouellette continued to sink in for Cummings after the announcement. But so had a bit of soothing perspective.

“It is disappointing. We’ve been playing together since the fourth grade,” Cummings said. “But this is a bigger situation than softball. I’m just trying to stay positive about it. I’m going to experience so many more things in my life and losing my senior softball season isn’t going to change that.”

Athletes, coaches and athletic directors across the region echoed Cummings’ sentiments, expressing sadness, particularly for the seniors whose final season was aborted, but also placing it in perspective.

“There are bigger things than softball,” said Edward Little softball coach and special education teacher Elaine Derosby. “There are bigger things than education. I know in the moment, it doesn’t make it any easier.”

Spruce Mountain athletic director Marc Keller said more than one-third of the school’s senior class had signed up for a spring sport (baseball, softball, track and field and tennis)

“For a lot them,” he said, “this is going to be their last opportunity to compete, to be with teammates, to be with friends and last season with a coach who meant a lot to them. So it will be tough for them.”

Long-time Lewiston tennis coach Anita Murphy was looking forward to preparing the Blue Devils to defend their 2019 Class A girls state championship and coaching her granddaughter, Molly Chicoine.

“Obviously I am very sad, not just for me but for the kids, especially the seniors,” Murphy said. “This was their year, for everything in their senior year, you know, getting together, the prom, the games.”

“I am sure it was a difficult decision for the MPA to do this,” Murphy said. “My daughter coaches (girls tennis at) Portsmouth High School in New Hampshire and she’s kind of holding on that they are able to (have a spring season). I think New Hampshire is going to follow.”

MPA WAS ‘HANDCUFFED’

Edward Little Athletic Director Todd Sampson said he remained optimistic after the MPA decided last month to postpone the start of the season to April 27. But as states around the country began canceling their spring seasons, and other New England states such as Vermont and Connecticut indefinitely postponed theirs, prospects seemed to dim. Closing school facilities through the remainder of the school year put the lights out on the spring season.

“I think the MPA were kind of handcuffed into making this decision,” said Sampson, who noted there were 240 students at the high school and 200 at Auburn Middle School signed up for a spring sport.

Mt. Blue athletic director Chad Brackett said a safe spring sports season would have been impossible without on-site education resuming.

“My heart goes out to the spring season student-athletes, especially the seniors. Not one of them expected their high school experience to end this way,” he added. “Mt. Blue kids are resilient and tough. They can and will get through this.”

Spruce Mountain senior Brandon Frey had switched from track and field to baseball for his final season and was looking forward to playing for his father, David, who coached him in football.

“It really sucks, but they are doing it for a really good reason,” Brandon Frey said. “I wish it wouldn’t have gotten canceled because I was planning on doing baseball this year. A bunch of my friends wanted me to.”

“It is kind of a disappointment,” David Frey said. “I feel bad for the kids, especially the seniors. It is one of those things where you have to abide by the decision made. The number one concern is health.”

Physical health is one thing, but coaches said they are also concerned about the impact not having a season has had and will continue to have on their athletes mentally.

“I tried not to get my kids hopes up or my own hopes up,” Oxford Hills boys lacrosse coach Hunter Rowell said. “Even though (we’ve been living in) a world without sports, it’s really hard. I know my kids and especially myself, we use sports as a release. It’s tough, but I felt like it was coming. I have been talking to a lot of my coaching friends, we were all bracing for impact.”

‘BIG BUMP IN THE ROAD’

Derosby, who had 40 players expected to try out for softball this spring, said it will be important for coaches to keep in contact with their athletes throughout the spring, even with no games or practices.

“This is a big bump in the road for a lot of people,” she said. “I think we need to check in on them more and remind them there are lessons you can take from this and need to take from this, and remember there is a bigger picture here.”

Coaches are going to need support too, Sampson said.

“We’ve got some coaches who are really close to the kids and really care deeply about them and are really hurting right now,” Sampson said.

“It is only April and I miss my athletes immensely right now,” Mt. Blue track and field coach Kelley Cullenberg said.

Cullenberg said she and her daughter, Kahryn, who is a Mt. Blue senior track and field competitor, have been discussing the pandemic and the impact it would have on their season. She said she ultimately supports the MPA’s decision, “but it doesn’t make it any easier to face reality.”

“It has been very difficult. There has been a lot of grieving, in a sense,” Kelley Cullenberg said. “There has been a lot of conversation that revolves around all the things that she and we as a family are missing.

“It hasn’t been easy, but (Kahryn) has gotten some really good perspective on things. The bottom line is it is a horrible situation for everybody, but we firmly believe that you have to make the most it.”

Athletes who had been preparing to make the most of their season for months will henceforth be left wondering what might have been.

“I was practicing and playing with a travel team this winter and we had a couple of other girls who were on travel teams,” Cummings said. “We were really excited about this season because we still had a lot of talent on the team and we felt we were going to have a great season.”

“We all had plans that we were going to go harder than we did last year and just give it our all,” said Julia Svor, a junior on the Lewiston tennis team. “Lewiston had a great chance of winning another title and because we only lost one person (from last year), now we are losing three for next year.”

Losing the spring season adds to the frustration that had been building up since the outbreak put the season in doubt little more than a month ago.

“We couldn’t go to the courts because of social distancing,” Svor said. “We couldn’t get practice in (on our own), the most we can do is just work out and just get into it (as best as you can).”

IMPACT ON EDUCATION

Athletes are also students still trying to adjust to learning from home. Some use athletics as an incentive to do well in class, whether it’s to improve their college prospects with better academic transcripts or to maintain eligibility to play. Sampson worries about taking that incentive away, even for the short term.

“I think that’s a real, legitimate concern,” said Sampson, an Edward Little alumnus. “I was one of those kids in the late 1980s. If I didn’t have baseball, I probably would have struggled to be able to walk across that stage (to get his diploma).”

Rowell, who is an ed tech in an alternative education program at Oxford Hills, said players often took advantage of mandatory study halls to improve their grades last year. Without those this spring, he still plans on “talking to these guys and making sure they are doing what they need to do to just keep going.”

“I think it’s going to be hard for a little while, for sure, to try to figure out this distance learning, motivation and drive,” Rowell said. “I think a lot of us as a coaching staff around the state, around the country, are really trying to stay tight with these kids to make sure they are being successful in the classroom.”

“Just because we don’t have sports doesn’t mean we can’t get it done in the classroom,” he said.

And just because spring sports is over doesn’t mean that there isn’t hope for the summer. Cummings, who plans to attend the University of Southern Maine and play field hockey there in the fall, still seems determined to continue her softball career.

“Now that I’m not going to have a senior season I would say playing on a travel team this summer is more likely so I can at least play some type of season,” she said.


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