Organizers of the Maine Elite Football Camp came very close to punting on its 2020 session due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

After hearing from potential campers who encourage them to go for it, though, they called an audible on fourth down.

The day camp, organized by Leavitt coach Mike  Hathaway, Cony coach B.L. Lippert and Bonny Eagle coach Kevin Cooper, will return for its fourth year on July 20. This year, though, it will be held in two locations, in Augusta July 20-23, and Portland July 27-30.

“Even after we had kind of put the word out that it was likely to be canceled, we were still getting as many as seven or eight registrations a day,” Hathaway said. “We figured we might as well give it a go if we can do it with the restrictions that are in place.”

Last year, the camp moved from Augusta to Lewiston to set up a more central location and utilize the high school’s new turf field. It was originally slated to return to Lewiston on July 6, but with Lewiston and many other public schools keeping their facilities closed through the summer, the coaches needed to find a new home.

“Probably the hardest part was finding a place to do it,” Lippert said.

The Augusta sessions are currently scheduled for Capitol Park, but Lippert said those may be moved to Cony High School’s Alumni Field, the camp’s original home, if school officials believe it is in good enough shape to use. He said the coaches were fortunate to find an opening at Fitzpatrick Stadium for the Portland sessions, which has been inundated with rental requests from various sports organizations.

The coaches had to make a number of other changes to take the field this summer. Instead of having more than 100 campers converging each day, participants have been asked to sign up for one of three two-hour sessions per day. Those sessions will be limited to a maximum of 45 participants each, in keeping with the state’s ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.

Plans to launch a lineman camp in conjunction with the established passing camp this year have been postponed. Those who had already signed up and paid the $175 registration fee will receive refunds.

“We had to cancel that part of it because we didn’t feel we could do face-to-face contact,” Hathaway said. “We felt like that was a little bit of a risk and wasn’t in line (with safety protocols).”

Indoor lunchtime film or “chalk talk” sessions also had to be canceled, Hathaway said.

Working out quarterbacks and receivers does fall in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state social distancing guidelines, though, and other safety measures have been added for this year’s camp. Receivers are being encouraged to wear gloves; chest bumps and high fives are discouraged; campers must bring their own water and an athletic trainer will be present to disinfect footballs as they are rotated in and out of drills. Also, campers who do not feel well will be asked not to attend and receive a full refund.

Coaches still plan to end each day with some 7-on-7 competition, although contact such as press coverage (a defensive back bumping a receiver to knock him off his route) will not be allowed.

To avoid any potential conflict with Maine Principals’ Association rules regarding coach-player contact, players from Leavitt, Cony and Bonny Eagle are being scheduled for separate sessions so that their coaches can sit out that session, Hathaway said.

Hathaway and Lippert said not being able to coach their own players will be tough, and campers not having the opportunity to mingle and compete with as many other players from across the state as previous camps is another downside to the new, hopefully temporary structure. But having something to offer to players whose options have been eroded away this summer by COVID-19 was important.

“Overwhelmingly, people were saying ‘We want to do this,’ ‘My son wants to do this,'” Lippert said. “Actually, I was kind of stunned by the number of people that just assumed we were going to have it this year.”

Last year’s camp drew about 80 players from 18 different Maine schools. More players representing more schools are expected this year, Lippert said. Registration remains open online. The fee has been reduced from $175 to $100 per person.

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