Jon Lynch, UMaine’s director of sports performance, is shown last summer during a football practice in Orono. Lynch has been conducting volunteer workouts in recent weeks with a small group of athletes on campus. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The University of Maine has taken some first steps to having athletes back on campus while testing its safety protocols for confronting the coronavirus outbreak that shut down collegiate sports last March.

A small group of athletes has been gathering for voluntary workouts on Mahaney Diamond for the last two weeks under the guidance of Maine’s strength and conditioning staff and training staff. UMaine is the first college in the state to bring back any athletes for workouts.

“When we first started discussing this, we said we need to get our feet wet,” said Jon Lynch, Maine’s director of sports performance who is overseeing the workouts. “We knew things would be significantly different (from the past), that there would be changes. But until you run it, there are going to be things you’re going to miss. We felt we needed to do this with a low number of athletes with very little risk of exposing them to the virus. And I think we’ve been very successful.”

Lynch said the workouts started on June 18 with about five athletes from a couple of different teams. The group concentrated on conditioning drills until this week, when they moved to more sport-specific drills. There are now about 11 athletes participating.

“This is our initial work to get our protocols down,” said UMaine athletic director Ken Ralph. “We’re seeing how everything works. We want to get it down correctly before moving onto bigger groups and moving into indoor facilities. ”

Ralph said it was unlikely that would happen until Maine has testing protocols in place for COVID-19. “Until we do we’re not going to ramp up our numbers,” he said.

On Tuesday, the University of Maine System announced it had entered partnerships with The Jackson Laboratory and ConvenientMD for COVID-19 testing this fall. It is also expected to make an announcement soon on its plans for on-campus learning this fall.

The voluntary workouts have been limited to student-athletes living within a 30-mile radius of the Orono campus who have been in place for the last 14 days. Lynch said the 30-mile radius was chosen because “the number of cases in Maine, and particularly Penobscot County, are low. We’re trying to take every precaution.”

Those who are participating must wear a mask at all times on campus except during  the workouts. They must complete a wellness survey and have their temperatures checked (by a member of the UMaine training staff) before being allowed to participate.

They then enter Mahaney Diamond through the outfield gate and proceed to a workout station on the field. Stations are set up in left field, center field, right field and the infield. While social distance protocols call for six feet between individuals, Lynch said the low number of participants is allowing them to keep 15 feet between each athlete.

“At no point during the workout is anybody compromised because of distance,” said Lynch.

The workouts, held three times a week, last about an hour. When finished, the athletes leave through a different exit, wearing their masks until they leave campus.

The NCAA began allowing voluntary workouts on June 1. Many programs have already seen large numbers of athletes testing positive for COVID-19 with several – the latest being Austin Peay and New Mexico State – suspending the workouts.

That’s why Maine officials wanted to proceed slowly. “This gave us a chance to see what other schools had done,” said Lynch. “Each school is different. We had to create our own protocols.”

Ralph said athletes have been on campus throughout the spring, using the track or running the stairs at Alfond Stadium. The supervised workouts, however, are an important step to regaining some normalcy.

“I’m not 100 percent sure we get to normal this year,” said Ralph. “We’re just trying to keep moving forward.”


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