St. Dom’s senior goalie Sydney Stebbins, right, offers sophomore Emma Dalgleish some advice during practice in Auburn on Thursday. “It might not be how we want it, but it’s good to be back,” Stebbins said about being back on the field with her teammates during the pandemic. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Cross country and field hockey mentors have learned to work within the Maine Principals’ Association’s guidelines over the past summer, but when the state pushed back the start of the fall season, it left coaches and their athletes frustrated and apprehensive.

There are a handful of MPA cross country guidelines in place when and if the season begins, including staggering runners’ starts to keep them at a safe distance from each other at course’s narrowest points, immediately leaving the finish line after the race, and wearing masks before and after the race.

“We’ve been following the mask rules and so fourth. Our kids are used to that,” Edward Little cross country coach Keith Weatherbie said.

But, he added, the rule pertaining to the finish line might be tough to deal with.

“I think for some of the kids, that will be difficult,” Weatherbie said. “Whoever is in charge of the meet will kind of make sure that they have enough people there to assist some of the runners out that area. I think we can work around it. I am willing to do anything that is going to enable us to run.” 

Weatherbie said that a three-school meet would be ideal to start runners in waves to avoid bottle-necking along the course. He added that the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference is in the process of revamping the cross country schedule to try and keep it to three-team meets.

“Every 15 seconds or 30 seconds, you can start a wave and so forth, depending on how many you have,” he added. 

Weatherbie believes there will still be a season despite another hold-up when the state rebuked the MPA’s guidelines. 

“I was upset. I read through it,” he said. “To be honest, football I can see there will be problems with. But when I read through it, as far as cross country is concerned, I think we will be alright to run it.”

Lisbon cross country coach Jeremy Williams said the MPA cross country guidelines might affect teams in different ways.

“I think they work fairly well for certain-size teams,” he said. “I think other teams are going to have a little bit tougher of a time that are a little bit larger.

“Running in waves the way they have it set up, I think it will it will work for what we need to do for social distancing and all the guidelines they set in place.”

But Williams said the guidelines for no loitering at the finish line might be a problem.

“With certain courses, I think the start and finish line is going to be the Achilles heel for some teams, he said. “I know with our home course, our starting line is going to be a tough thing to deal with. 

“Having a finishing, kind of open corral is doable for a lot of teams. We usually do that in a lot of championship meets. That won’t be too much of an issue.”

For the moment, Williams has been feeling disheartened with state delaying fall sports.

“My girls and guys have been running very well, very hard all summer long to kind of get ready because they know that they have a very good team …” Williams said. “We are hearing the news now that the state overturned the MPA rules and they are going pretty much back to the drawing board to rethink it.

“It hurts. We worked real hard to get where we are. I feel bad for the kids right now. I hope we can overcome all this and see what we can do to have a fall sport. The athletes really need it. They all need it.”

Mt. Blue cross country coach Kelley Cullenberg said starting runners in waves will make things interesting for coaches.

“Because of COVID reasons, I think that coaches are probably going to have to put their fastest kids first, and (the reason for) having a wave of the fastest kids is that the people behind don’t have as much of an opportunity to close the gap and pass,” she said. “In the end, we don’t want the passing to happen, right, because then there is congestion.”

Cullenberg lost her outdoor track season last year to the coronavirus and is now faced with possibility that there will be no fall season, but her athletes have impressed her over the summer.

“I guess the way I am looking at it is that on July 6, (it was) my first opportunity to meet with my kids. I felt such an honor to be there, and, yeah, we had our masks on, and, yeah, they all took the assessment … (but) they have been respectful,” she said. “We social distanced in all of our drills and we were wearing masks doing our drills. It is just a different mindset now and everybody gets it.

“Yes, I want meets. Yes, I want a season. But I just feel like I am not going to be that negative person out there. I just hope they do all the right things, and they can go to school safely. If we have a season, it will make me extremely happy, but as corny as it sounds, I will be devastated if we can’t.”

‘UNDERSTAND THE FRUSTRATION’

The rules for field hockey include substituting one player at a time to maintain social distancing, no touching the ball and the penalty box chair has been eliminated — players must instead take a knee.

“The only thing they are asking is not to pick the ball up with your hands if at all possible, which I don’t think will be much of an adjustment,” Lewiston field hockey coach Janessa Talarico said. “We got really lucky.”

Talarico understands the frustration of pushing back the season, but safety is always the first concern.

St. Dom’s senior Isabella Pelletier works on an “air dribbling” drill during field hockey practice in Auburn on Thursday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“I understand frustration. I know kids love sports and getting pushed back again hurts a lot feelings, but I do think health and safety needs to come first,” Talarico said. “I am OK with it if they think that is best for the athletes.”

Until she hears otherwise, Talarico said the season starts Sept. 14.

Oxford Hills coach Cindy Goddard said the guidelines won’t put a crimp in the Vikings’ playing style.

“If (guidelines) give us a chance to play, I am good with that,” she said.

Goddard thought the MPA’s green light for the fall season last week was the final decision.

“I guess I just wish they had gone to the table together (and discuss it),” she said.

Goddard just wants the state and MPA to make a final decision so that season can move forward. 

“I think if we can start on the 14th, I think we are going to get something in,” Goddard said. “I love that they are going regional. I think that is awesome. I love not traveling. I think it will be nice that parents can get to games and even drive their kids to the games.”

Telstar athletic director and field hockey coach Gail Wight said the guidelines won’t have an affect on the game.

But when the state disapproved of the MPA’s guidelines, Wight joined the ranks of other frustrated coaches.

“It is just dragging everybody on,” she said. “The guidelines are out there so why would you put something out that doesn’t follow the guidelines?

“I have been coaching forever and just the thought of not having a season …”

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.