The Maine Principals’ Association is delaying any in-person coaching until July and has suspended the hands-off period during the first two weeks of August in a response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Following recommendations from its Sports Medicine Committee, the MPA’s Interscholastic Management Committee last week set July 6 as the first day of in-person coaching this summer. In addition, the MPA will allow local school districts to determine academic eligibility for fall sports.

“We took a lot of first steps,” said Mike Burnham, the MPA’s executive director. “We will continue to meet. It’s hard to predict something that’s six, seven weeks out when everything changes on a daily and weekly basis. But we will continue to work with the governor’s office, the Maine CDC and Maine Department of Education and make the most informed decisions we can.”

It was important, Burnham said, that the MPA set some guidelines for summer programs while also addressing academic eligibility issues that may stem from virtual learning, since schools have been closed.

Skowhegan High Athletic Director Jon Christopher said the change in eligibility rules is significant, given virtual learning.

“Every district is different, but it’s been tough for everyone,” he said. “There are some districts in southern Maine that made a seamless move into remote learning. There are others, in more remote areas, that haven’t because they didn’t have appropriate internet access. I think it makes sense. It allows everyone to adjust to what they’ve been able to do.”

Pushing the in-person coaching date to July 6 while also eliminating the hands-off period for 2020 essentially pushes the summer season back two weeks. Coaches can hold virtual meetings with their teams beginning June 21.

“It’s about safety first,” said Biddeford Athletic Director Dennis Walton. “I’m hoping that by July, some restrictions will be lifted so we can get our kids to do something. I’m not sure about summer leagues, but maybe bringing in small groups and work on skills. In talking to my coaches, that’s what they hope to see this summer.”

Bill Goodman, the golf and girls’ basketball coach at Cheverus, said he understands why the change was made.

“As a coach, I appreciate anything I can do with my team,” he said. “I think everyone really, really wants to do something for the kids. But they also want to do it safe. Taking it one day at a time, that’s a good approach.”

The delay in the start of the summer season will force some summer leagues to rearrange their schedules. Mike Andreasen, the Greely boys’ soccer coach, had established a schedule for a 30-team summer soccer league that he hoped would begin playing games on June 23.

“You’ve got to play the cards that are dealt to you,” said Andreasen. “If we’ve got to move things, we’ll move things. We’ve got to see what they’ll let us do.”

Eliminating the hands-off period, during which coaches are not allowed any contact with their athletes in the two weeks leading into the start of the fall sports season, will allow coaches “to make plans to restart these programs,” said Burnham. “There was a concern about athletes coming back to a competitive season and not being properly conditioned. Maybe they can start a conditioning program so that the kids are ready.”

The MPA’s Interscholastic Management Committee also approved two other recommendations from its Sports Medicine Committee.

They are recommending that schools revise their physical exam policies and allow students that have previously had a physical to simply complete the participation health questionnaire and be eligible. Students who haven’t played at the high school level before will still need to take a physical.

“We’re concerned that when, and if, we can start in the fall, that if medical offices are still limiting wellness visits, it’s going to restrict kids from getting physicals and from participating,” said Burnham. “As long as the questionnaire is completed and reviewed by medical personnel at the school, that will be all right.”

The MPA is also recommending that coaches who need to recertify for CPR/AED can do that online and not have to take hands-on certification courses. New coaches, however, would need to earn their certification at a full CPR course.


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