Spruce Mountain boys soccer coach Adam Gettle prepares for practice Thursday afternoon in Jay. Tony Blasi/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

JAY — This high school boys varsity soccer team will never play a regular season game, but there the Spruce Mountain Phoenix were, enthusiastically going through their practice drills on a cloudy Thursday afternoon.

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Spruce Mountain midfielder Joel Thornton dribbles the ball downfield during practice in Jay on Thursday. Tony Blasi/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“I am grateful to be doing something,” Spruce Mountain head coach Adam Gettle said.

On Sept. 10, state officials and the Maine Principals’ Association that high school teams can compete in soccer, field hockey, cross country and golf (but not tackle football and indoor volleyball) this fall. Later that day, however, the RSU 73 school board decided to allow Spruce Mountain to only play golf and cross country — leaving the field hockey and boys and girls soccer teams without seasons.

The boys soccer team is still waiting for approval to hold an intramural season.

With no soccer season, some Phoenix players elected to five one of the two approved sports a try. But two sophomores, Joel Thornton and Lucas Towers, are not heading for the links with a bag of golf clubs or going the distance for the cross country team. No, they’ll remain on a soccer field this fall.

“I will be doing intramural soccer because even though there is no competition, I still want to get better as a player and continue on with the sport I love and cherish,” Thornton, a midfielder, said. 

Towers was in lockstep with Thornton when it came to playing another sport.

“Golf and cross country — not my thing,” Towers said. “I want to keep up with my soccer skills as much as I can. We are not going to have a season. I at least want to keep up with my skills so I am not completely out of shape.”

Gettle has learned to accept with board’s decision and is eager to move on to an intramural season.

“I was surprised (by the decision), but I can’t say I was completely taken aback, keeping with consistency of everything else that has been going quite the opposite way of what we all wanted it to,” Gettle said. “We don’t have a season, and that is unfortunate. It is disappointing when guidelines were laid out to consider the health of the students to make it possible to play soccer. The board did what they thought was best, and it is what it is.”

Assistant coach Tony Billington said the decision by the school board was a disappointment for him.

“We wanted to play; that’s why we play sports,” Billington said. 

Most area school boards voted to let their teams play the state-and-MPA approved sports, including Mt. Abram, which gained unanimous approval Thursday evening, according to athletic director Kristina Stevens. But Spruce Mountain isn’t the only school choosing to not play some sports. Rangeley, like Spruce, is only offering golf and cross country, while Mt. Blue will not compete against other schools in any sports this fall. Oxford Hills is expected to officially decide whether or not to play early next week.

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Spruce Mountain boys soccer coach Adam Gettle, right, speaks with assistant coach Tony Billington and player Lucas Towers during practice in Jay on Thursday. Tony Blasi/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Towers said he will miss competing against other teams.

“That’s what we play for — the competition,” he said. “We don’t play to play against each other. We play to play against other schools. It is just a sense of pride, too.”

Gettle acknowledged that fear of the coronavirus and the possibility infection is something everybody should consider.

“The kids grasped the idea that there is an option to play another sport that they might not have done before,” Gettle said. “Some we have seen go play golf or cross country, where there is more competition.”

He said his former players have told him they are enjoying playing a new sport in a different atmosphere. 

“We had 17 kids as part of our summer program when that decision was made,” Gettle said. “It was tough decision for them. I left it up to them — I don’t want to ever force anything on them — and strongly said, ‘You guys do what you want to do.'”

For the moment, Gettle is working with eight or nine players who decided to stick it out on the soccer field.

“At this point, I will do the best I can to move forward with numbers we have,” he said. “I think the boys are looking forward to what we have planned. We’ve been approved to propose a plan, and we will just pray that will be allowed (to go forward) with what we’ve come up with.”

The school board also has the final say on whether an intramural program goes forth this season.


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