Mt. Blue junior midfielder Emma White (14) winces on a header as Cony’s Dinah Wadleigh (17) and Andrea Richardson (14) look on at Caldwell Field in Farmington last October. Tony Blasi/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Kailey Hackett’s junior softball season never happened. She isn’t prepared for the senior season of her favorite sport, field hockey, to meet the same fate.

“For one sport to be taken away from me was confusing and heartbreaking,” said Hackett, who would be playing her fourth year at Dirigo. “I couldn’t imagine letting go of my last field hockey season. The field hockey is like family to me.”

Hackett and other fall athletes around Maine don’t have to let go of their season, at least not yet, after the Maine Principals’ Association’s Interscholastic Management Committee unanimously approved all fall sports on Thursday.

Having cleared one hurdle, fall sports still has two more obstacles approaching — a state review of the MPA Sports Medicine Committee’s guidelines for each sport to return safely and permission from local school districts.

“I guess I will have to wait until we see what our district does,” Spruce Mountain junior golfer Matthew Fenlason said. “But I think it is in the best interest to do it that way because every school, every town will be different.”

Every sport could be different in terms of how competition is conducted. MPA guidelines are established based on whether a sport is considered high risk, such as football, moderate risk, such as cross country, or low risk, such as golf, by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Lewiston football coach Darren Hartley said his players put in a lot of work during the summer, and no matter what the MPA does to tweak the football season, he wants to see his players on the field.

Lewiston’s Danny May runs past Windham’s Stuart Salom (21) in 2018. May, who is a senior, was excited to hear that the MPA on Thursday voted to approve fall sports. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Lewiston senior tailback and safety Danny May was excited when he heard the MPA made a decision.

“I’m excited to get moving forward with the season,” May said. “With all this coronavirus stuff going on, I had my doubts it would happen. I just kept being in the right mindset of being positive and hoping for the best.

‘TIME TO MOVE FORWARD’

“It’s a good day for athletics in the sense that kids are going to get an opportunity to play this fall,” Lewiston athletic director Jason Fuller said. “But we’re going to need all hands on deck to pull it off. I’m not going to feel comfortable until that magic word comes down that, yes, we’re going, and it’s time to move forward.”

Just how quickly schools can move forward with a fall season once the remaining obstacles are cleared could vary from community to community.

Edward Little athletic director Todd Sampson said he was confident the school would be able to move quickly because athletics have been a regular part of the Auburn School District’s return to school planning since it started last spring.

Nevertheless, Sampson said he was “shocked” athletics still have yet another hurdle to clear at the state level, and hopes it doesn’t force schools to start later than Sept. 8, the first day of preseason practices, a date that was already moved back by the MPA.

“We’ve delayed and we’ve delayed and we’ve delayed,” Sampson said.  “I know my kids are ready to go and I know my coaches are ready to go. But we’ll understand if there has to be one to have a season.”

Spruce Mountain will hold a special board meeting next Thursday night to discuss fall sports, according to athletic director Marc Keller.

“It is a school board decision,” Keller said. “I will do a presentation based on the MPA’s recommendations and what the expectations are from the state agencies … and go from there.”

The MPA has already called for fewer games and schools are discussing regionalized schedules to help ensure sports not only start but reach the finish line.

Athletes said they are willing to accept shorter seasons, regional opponents and strict protocols — and even no fans at games — in order to get on the field.

Edward Little’s Courtney Larson sends the ball up the field during a field hockey game against Mt. Blue in Auburn in September 2019. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“I feel like we are one step closer (to having a season), but it’s still really in the hands of the district and obviously the board members,” Mt. Blue senior soccer player Emma White said. “We are ready to go out and play, no matter who we play or what we play, we are going to put our hearts on the field this year and do our best.”

“Sports pretty much make up my entire schedule,” said Edward Little senior Courtney Larson, who plays field hockey and softball and is also on the Alpine ski team. “I kind of need the structure that it provides to my days. I really wouldn’t know what to do with all of my free time if we didn’t have field hockey.”

‘POSITIVE POSSIBILITIES’

Edward Little field hockey started daily practices this week after a summer spent practicing about twice each week. The Red Eddies were in the middle of a session when the news of the MPA’s vote came out, and they gathered as a team for a chat with coach Elaine Derosby after practice to talk about what might be next.

“Generally, everyone is relieved, but everyone is still on edge,” Larson said.

“I would say I feel slightly more optimistic now that we have the MPA’s support,” she added. “But it’s still uncertain.”

Spruce Mountain boys soccer coach Adam Gettle expressed frustration that the season still isn’t a sure thing.

“Well, if the MPA said to give the go-ahead, and it is still up to the district, it is just as up in the air as it was before, in my mind,” he said. “They give the go-ahead, but now they are putting it on someone else to make that tough decision — (it’s) just as tough as anyone else to make that decision as well.”

Poland cross country coach Sean Galipeau-Eldridge said that while Thursday’s news still leaves him and his athletes with some questions, it’s given him reason to remain hopeful for a season.

“It gives us an opportunity to get our kids out and doing what they love to do and have some type of normalcy,” he said. “We know it’s kind of the first hurdle and it raises some more questions, but I’ve been staying positive through all of this and this opens the door for a lot of positive possibilities.”

He added: “Realizing that there are other steps still along the way, we’re telling the kids they’ve got to be patient and we’ve got to take this one step at a time.”

Mt. Blue girls soccer coach Fred Conlogue said his players were so excited by the news that they wanted to see the season’s schedule.

“I said, ‘They haven’t even showed it to me, yet, and it hasn’t been voted on, so you’re looking at least the middle of next week,’” Conlogue said. “They are itching to see who they came up with to play, as I am.”

Spruce Mountain football coach David Frey said he was pleased with the MPA’s decision, but said his players still have a long ways to go to get ready for what will be its first season of eight-man football.

“Right now, we’re just getting them out and doing stuff. They still have us in pods, which means it is difficult to do certain things that you need to do,” Frey said.

While Thursday’s vote wasn’t the final resolution some were hoping for, or even expecting, athletes said it did reinforce the need to continue following the guidelines they’ve been following since July.

“I would say that there is more of an incentive to really stick to the rules, and staying safe and following the protocols now that we are closer to having a season,” Larson said.

Fuller said 320 students participated in Lewiston’s summer programs, the most participation he’s seen. He credited coaches with taking on the difficult task of managing practices safely and following MPA guidelines through the summer. He said he will be meeting with coaches and teams next week to make sure everyone is ready for the next step and the long haul.

“We’ll be ready to go,” Fuller said. “After that, it really depends on the athletes being responsible and coaches maintaining protocols and everyone doing what they’re supposed to do.”

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