Another day, another delay in the fall high school sports season has coaches wondering what could be holding up a decision on whether they will start or not.

The lack of a decision on Sept. 2 is particularly frustrating to those who coach the sport that appears to be in the most danger of not being played  football.

On Aug. 27, the Maine Principals’ Association’s Interscholastic Management Committee voted unanimously to allow all fall sports.

On Wednesday, the MPA delayed the start of the fall season to Sept. 18, six days later than the previous start date, to give it more time to work with state agencies to develop COVID-19 safety guidelines. On Tuesday, state educators and health officials urged the MPA to delay the season’s start further due to inadequacies in its plan to start fall sports.

State officials also raised concerns about high-risk sports such as volleyball, which is played indoors, and football, a contact sport. Another contact sport, soccer, was moved from high to medium risk.

Football coaches expressed frustration that evidence suggesting football isn’t more dangerous than other sports is being ignored, and wondered why the decision has been pushed back yet again.

Oxford Hills football coach Mark Soehren, whose sons, Atticus, a senior, and Eli, a sophomore, both play for him, said he understands state officials being cautious, but wondered if state and education leaders know what the next step is, or if they are willing to face the music if what they decide to do proves unpopular.

Oxford Hills head coach Mark Soehren on the sideline during a game against Windham in 2017. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal file photo Buy this Photo

“Are we waiting for a vaccine?” he said. “It seems like we don’t have any direction.”

Schools were allowed to start workouts in July under MPA restrictions and few reported infections have resulted. Despite that, Soehren said coaches and athletes understand their season could end at any point due to safety concerns, but added “Moving forward at this point feels like the brave move.”

“I’m just totally bewildered. I just don’t understand the process, I guess,” he said. “I’m confused as to what’s next and I’m confused as to what this has all meant the last few months.”

After a summer of club sports and football and basketball activities involving his sons, and following parts of the country where high school sports have already started with few reports of those activities resulting in a spike in cases, Soehren wondered what more needs to be done to demonstrate it is safe for a low-risk group such as teenagers.

“If this were June, I couldn’t advocate for fall sports starting,” Soehren said. “But I think the people of Maine have done the job keeping the numbers (of infections) down and we’ve gotten to the point where we’ve opened up and it’s time to take the next step.”

Some coaches noted the scrutiny football has faced over concussions over the last decade even though research has indicated athletes in other sports, such as girls soccer, also had high concussion rates.

“It does, to me, feel like, for whatever reason, football is being singled out,” Soehren said.

Poland coach Gus LeBlanc agreed football has reason to feel like it is subject to different standards, but added that the nature of the sport requires more scrutiny.

“The pure beating heart of a football coach in me wants me to say ‘Yeah, we’re being singled out,'” he said. “But when you look at the contact nature of football, it’s probably the poster child for the contact you just can’t have (in a pandemic).”

LeBlanc added that perhaps recent events unrelated to athletics led state officials to put the brakes on an early-September return to sports.

“I’m wondering if what happened with the wedding in Millinocket has had some impact on this,” LeBlanc said, referring to an Aug. 7 wedding that has been linked to 143 COVID-19 cases.

Coaches remain worried about what impact cancellation of football or any fall sports will have on students, emotionally and academically. Soehren said he has talked with three Oxford Hills parents who have expressed concern that their sons’ school work will suffer if there is no football.

“We’ll lose so many kids from school, so many will drop out, if they have no vested interest in going to class,” Edward Little coach Dave Sterling said. “And it’s not just football.”

Edward Little coach Dave Sterling, middle, yells instructions to his defense during a 2018 contest against Sanford at Walton Field in Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

As students return to school this week, coaches said they are trying to keep players upbeat about the prospects of a football season, but also need to be honest with them.

“I’ve been so incredibly impressed with the kids from Poland,” said LeBlanc, who took over as the Knights’ fourth head coach in five years earlier this summer. “We’ve had 27 or 28 kids coming to practice since July 1, twice a week at first and now three times a week, who have been so dedicated and positive every day. My focus is on being as straightforward as possible with them.”

“Our coaches and players were very disappointed,” Leavitt football coach Mike Hathaway said of this week’s developments.

Like Soehren, Hathaway has two sons playing for him Wyatt, a senior, and Sawyer, a sophomore. The roller-coaster ride over the status of fall sports continues to weigh on them and their teammates, he said.

“It’s been tough to be a teenager the last few months,” he said. “I will try to support them in any way I can.”

Leavitt football coach Mike Hathaway looks at a referee during a game last season in Turner. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.