Nicole Chapman, an unpaid volunteer assistant for Edward Little softball team, talks to players between innings during a game against Cony last spring. Edward Little High School will pay its head coaches and assistant coaches a partial stipend for the spring season. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Less than half of the 12 schools and school districts contacted by the Sun Journal are paying their spring sports coaches this year.

The Maine Principals’ Association first postponed, then, on April 9, canceled the spring sports season,  due to the coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday afternoon, the Sun Journal sent out an email to superintendents or athletic directors for 20 schools and school districts in the tri-county area. Twelve had responded by Friday night, and five of those dozen said they are paying their coaches for spring sports, even though the season never started.

Of those paying, only one, Lewiston, is giving coaches their full stipend. The other four are paying a portion.

Full stipends at schools that responded with dollar amounts range from as high as $4,200 for a varsity head coach to as low as $1,250 for a paid assistant, junior varsity or middle school coach.

Lewiston Superintendent Todd Finn said in an email that the school hopes “that the commitment we have made to them is being honored because we value their commitment to our student-athletes.”

As a former football, baseball and basketball coach, Finn said he “can testify to the work that goes into preparation for a season months before practice even begin.” But, he added, “my expectation is that our spring coaches become innovative with these current challenges: remain in contact with our student-athletes, virtually coach them as young leaders, and try to maintain that competitive edge through Zoom (video conference) workouts, film breakdown, or simply encouraging our kids to log individual reps in their backyards or driveways.”

Poland is paying varsity coaches 30 percent to varsity coaches and 20 percent for JV and assistant coaches.

Athletic director Don King said paying a portion of the stipends was a “gesture of appreciation” to coaches for the work they do and the preseason prep they have done. He said the compensation recognizes coaches for their year-round work, even if they weren’t able to set foot on a field or track this spring.

“Coaches work a lot more than just the seasons they are contracted for,” King said.

Lewiston High School baseball coach Darren Hartley sends a message to a batter while coaching third base during a game in 2018. Lewiston is paying its spring sports coaches a full stipend for the canceled season. Sun Journal file photo

Coaches commit a lot of their offseason time to building the program and its feeder system, King said, work for which they receive little or no compensation. That includes traveling to scout future opponents, traveling for coaches clinics — for which schools typically pay registration fees but not expenses such as food, board or gas — and organizing and operating youth clinics within the school system.

Two schools, Edward Little and Gray-New Gloucester, are paying their varsity head coaches 33 percent of their stipend, and their junior varsity, middle school and assistant coaches 20 percent.

RSU 2, which includes Monmouth Academy and Hall-Dale, is paying all coaches half of their stipend.

In most cases, the decision to pay coaches or not did not come quickly after the MPA’s cancellation. Some schools entered negotiations with teachers unions and tabled school board votes on whether to pay coaches for several weeks.

Some schools, such as Oxford Hills, are still considering whether to pay coaches. At other schools, such as Lisbon, the topic has not even come up for formal discussion at school committee meetings.

The Auburn School Committee made its decision Wednesday after several rounds of discussions on the topic.

“We worked extremely hard to find a balance between supporting the amazing, dedicated coaches in Auburn and the realization that many families in Auburn have lost their jobs,” Edward Little athletic director Todd Sampson said in an email.

“By paying a portion, we hope that we’ve compensated the coaches that fulfilled their responsibilities before the shutdown and honored the coaches that continue to connect with student athletes throughout the season,” Sampson said. “My heart breaks for those coaches that depend on these stipends to balance their personal budget, but to pay a full stipend for a season that did not happen would be financially irresponsible by the athletic department.”

Edward Little junior varsity boys lacrosse coach Craig Jipson said the school committee’s decision was unfair in relation to other non-sports stipends that were being paid in full.

“EL has the greatest kids in the world. Todd Sampson is a great athletic director. There are so many positives about coaching at EL, but, financially, the school committee and the superintendents office have not been very good to their coaches,” Jipson said.

Jipson also blamed the teachers union for coaches at the school going seven years without a raise and receiving smaller stipends than comparable positions at comparable schools, such as Lewiston. He said he understood taxpayers’ concerns, but paying the spring coaches a full stipend for work they have done and continue to do would have sent a strong message that coaches are an important part of the school.

“We try to get people in our building to get into coaching. This isn’t the way to do it,” said Jipson, a physical education and health teacher at Edward Little who has also been an assistant football and basketball coach and for several years was the girls varsity basketball coach at the school.

Like Edward Little, Gray-New Gloucester settled on partial compensation for its coaches. SAD 15 Superintendent Craig King said the rationale was coaches had begun their work for the spring seasons with team, parent and athletic director meetings before the season’s cancellation. Coaches are continuing with professional development, meetings with the AD and outreach to athletes through the spring.

Dirigo, Mt. Abram, Mt. Blue, Telstar and RSU 10, which includes Mountain Valley and Buckfield high schools, are not paying stipends.

“Our sports never began, and we had not given out stipend agreements for spring either,” said RSU 10 Superintendent Deborah Alden, who noted stipends were not paid for other non-sports spring activities canceled by the epidemic, such as Mountain Valley’s Spring Musical.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story reported Poland was paying full stipends to coaches. It was reporter error.

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