Oxford Hills’ Siera Carson, right, and Leavitt’s Cierra Barker vie for the ball during a field hockey game last October. Oxford Hills and Leavitt are among the schools whose fall seasons have been further delayed by positive COVID-19 tests within their communities. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The day had finally arrived for some high school fall sports teams to begin their delayed seasons.

Then a “yellow” designation for Oxford County by the Maine Department of Education put a halt to athletics in that county’s schools, as well as the opponents they were scheduled to face Friday and in the foreseeable future.

“We were so close to returning to the fields,” Oxford Hills Athletic Director Kevin Ryan said. “The athletes and coaches have done everything our districts, the MPA and the state agencies have asked them to do. This is tough for all of them.”

According to guidelines created by the state in July, “Categorization as ‘yellow’ suggests that the county has an elevated risk of COVID-19 spread and that hybrid models of instruction should be adopted.”

In terms of high school athletics, the Maine Principals’ Association said in an email sent to member schools, “Should a county be designated yellow or red, there should be no practices or games held until which time they are designated green.”

The designations have previously been updated every two weeks, but the DOE’s website states that “yellow” counties will be reassessed weekly.

The designation created a bit of a mess Friday, leaving the athletic directors of the impacted schools — in both Oxford and surrounding counties — scrambling to announce postponements and cancellations, as well as their adjust upcoming schedules.

Affected high schools in Oxford County include Oxford Hills, Buckfield, Dirigo, Mountain Valley, Telstar, Sacopee Valley and Fryeburg Academy. Mountain Valley had already switched to remote learning and shut down its sports seasons through at least Oct. 13 prior to the designation. Telstar, meanwhile, had already scheduled a meeting Monday to re-evaluate whether to proceed with fall sports after the recent increase in COVID cases throughout the county.

Earlier this week, Leavitt Area High School’s sports programs were put on hold for a week due to four confirmed COVID-19 cases at three schools in Turner.

High school sports in Maine were delayed by nearly a month. On Sept. 10, the MPA and Gov. Mills administration announced that soccer, field hockey, golf and cross country could be played interscholastically this fall. Mt. Blue opted out of competing against other teams in all four sports, while Spruce Mountain and Rangeley decided only to participate in golf and cross country, and offer the other sports as intramurals.

“I’ve asked our coaches to continue communication with their team members and check in with them. I know the student-athletes are very disappointed,” Ryan said. “If we can get back to green, we will hopefully resume our athletics for the fall season. We would try to reschedule some of the games that will be postponed this coming week.”

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