AUBURN — Proud parents Michael and Sandy Irish were counting on watching their sons play tackle football together for the first and only time this season. 

On Saturday, Edward Little High School sophomore Alex Delisle protests the cancellation of the high school football season. Students, athletes, parents and coaches held the protest on the Longley Bridge between Lewiston and Auburn. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Edward Little High School freshman field hockey player Breanna Lepage saw that her brother Gavin was frustrated after the state and Maine Principals’ Association nixed the high school football season. She felt obliged to join the “Let Us Play” rally at the Longley Bridge on a cool, sunny Saturday morning

A small contingent of teenagers and parents from Lewiston linked up with Edward Little football players and their moms and dads to protest the decision. A gathering of nearly 50 people spread out across both sides of the bridge to wave signs with phrases like “Give us a first down,” “We wear masks” and “Today’s seniors/2022 voters.”

The crowd cheered supportive drivers whenever they gave a thumbs-up and honked their horns.

“My oldest son is going to be a senior (Cameron); my youngest son (Connor) is a freshman,” Michael Irish said. “This is going to be the only year as brothers to be able to play football on the same field. So that is being taken away from them for two brothers to be able to play the same sport (at) the same time.”

High school football teams will be allowed to hold 7-on-7 football games, interscholastically, but the joint decision still doesn’t sit well with Sandy Irish, who believes the football athletes got a raw deal.

“I have been involved in football since my son started playing,” she said. “This means as much to him as it does to me. I have invested a lot of time, energy. I haven’t missed a step with him. He lives and breaths football.”

“The medical expert that the MPA brought in — Dr. William Heinz — reported that all was OK. They gave the blinking yellow light and we all understood why. We were under a test and we were ready to prove that we could do this.

“None of it makes sense. If you can play soccer, why can’t you play football? They have a lot at stake, not only to prove to colleges what they are made of, and if we play in the spring, they have already applied to college. They pretty much lost their shot.”

Sandy Irish added that she is glad that soccer will be played, but she said that football players wear more gear and are protected.

EL defensive end and tackle Cameron Irish said he was “super surprised” by the decision on Thursday. 

“Of all the things I have been hearing, I thought it was going to go positive for us. Maybe I would play at least a couple of games, but now that we are completely done. It is sad and heartbreaking,” he said. “If this (rally) helps push Gov. Mills and the MPA to let us play football, it is worth it 100 percent.”

“We are showing that even though they are trying to shut us down, that we are just not going to go down without a fight,” EL lineman Ben Poland said.

Lepage said the rally was a worthy cause and it gave her an opportunity to support her brother.

“My brother has been playing football his whole life,” she said. “Seeing how heartbroken he was when he wasn’t able to play, it hurt me, and I feel like we should all be able to play. If field hockey is able to be played, I think football should be played — same thing with volleyball.”

Edward Little football coach Dave Sterling also joined the rally to support his team and parents.

“I have to support our football family,” he said. “It is not ‘I got to,’ I need to for my own sake as well as for the sake of these young men. You know the old saying: ‘The coach is father to 70 sons.’ These people are the extension to my family, who I am, and I am deeply hurt by the stress and strain these families are going under for essentially something the MPA agreed to, created the guidelines we talked about, and was overruled by a political system, essentially.

“This is where we have to make a stand. It goes back to even last night. You could have watched ten high school football games from throughout the country. Those games are being played under protocols. They are being played effectively. There are no outbreaks associated with those games.”

Parent Daniel Giguere can’t see why football won’t be played this season.

“I want them to be able to play, especially the seniors. I feel sorry for them because I played football,” he said. “That would have broken my heart. I lived when I was kid, for football.”

Lewiston parent Melodie Dionne-Klick said her son Michael would have been playing football as a freshman.

“He wants to play, not just flag or touch, but tackle,” she said. “I think (the decision) is sad. We had a month of practices and nothing has happened. We are all safe. We are all taking precautions. Why can’t we just keep going?

“I like to see them be able to play, especially seniors, when it is their last year. If they go to spring, they might have a spring sport and now they have to decide between the two. I understand safety is No. 1, but there is nothing unsafe about it.”

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