Mt. Blue players Josh Smith and Alex Mayhew look on as goalie James Stinson reaches for the ball during a soccer drill in Farmington on Tuesday. Tony Blasi/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

FARMINGTON — The lights at Caldwell Field will not remain dark on Friday nights.

Mt. Blue athletic director Chad Brackett and members of the school’s athletic department huddled together to create an all-inclusive array events for Cougar athletes after the Regional School Unit 9 board of directors decided in mid-September that Mt. Blue will not be participating in interscholastic competition this fall due to concerns about the potential spread of COVID-19.

The athletic staff settled on lighting up Caldwell Field on Friday nights to keep kids engaged through intramural sports.

Mt. Blue coach Joel Smith, second from left, directs players, including, from left, Trinity Titus, Jackson Joyce and Will Mayhew during a soccer drill at practice in Farmington on Tuesday. Tony Blasi/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“As we looked at potential scenarios through the summer for the fall season, an in-house option was always on the table,” Brackett said. ‘The specific plan for our ‘Friday Night Lights’ programming came from members of our fantastic coaching staff. We also got some feedback and ideas from the University of Maine at Farmington’s intramural director, who has been running great programming for years.”

Brackett and Mt. Blue boys soccer coach Joel Smith see the competition as a way keep school spirit alive and well.

“For the past three years, we have been working on getting all of our MBHS student-athletes to view each other, regardless of what team they are on, as being part of a larger ‘Team Cougar,’” Brackett said. “Although this in-house programming is not anyone’s first choice, it should help continue the ‘Team Cougar’ theme. We, at Mt. Blue, are all in this together.”

Smith described Friday Night Lights as sort of like a “carnival, field day-type atmosphere.”

“(Each) Friday night, eight representatives from each team will come to the high school and be involved in four different events,” Smith said earlier this week.

Smith added that Brackett will be keeping track of points earned throughout the course of the short season.

“We are sad that we aren’t going to have sports,” Smith said. “We really wanted to make sure that kids have something they could be a part of and just be unique. This is a unique situation and hopefully this will give them an opportunity to build school camaraderie and still be competitive.”

But, Brackett said, the athletes’ safety is always given top priority.

“The health and safety guidelines that we have during the school day will be followed at these events,” he said. “Physical distancing, mask-wearing and hand hygiene will all be in effect Friday night. There will be no spectators allowed into the Friday night event. For event management purposes, it will be students and athletic staff only.”

KEEPING THEM ON THE BALL

After the school board nixed the regular season, Smith met with his team and had a fireside chat about the circumstances.

“We just discussed how we want to get better and we made it a goal for the team that we are going to work to be better and not be bitter, and we just kind of want to stay positive and keep moving forward,” Smith said. “This is a tough situation for all of us and I don’t think anyone wanted to sacrifice the season.

Mt. Blue’s Trinity Titus, far left, Alex Mayhew, Maurice Romanyshyn and Josh Smith participate in a soccer drill in Farmington on Tuesday. Tony Blasi/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“It is a challenging situation across the country — and how do you keep people safe and how do you keep kids’ mental health in consideration?”

Smith said that the boys soccer team’s numbers are down this fall. He isn’t sure if some of the expected soccer players instead decided to try other sports, but he knows that some have jobs.

“Kids have chosen to work,” he said. 

Smith’s enthusiasm for his athletes and being on a field has certainly not waned, despite the pandemic. 

“Once I go out on the field, it falls into that pattern and you start hitting your stride and just being out here on the field,” Smith said. “I have been doing this a long time. It’s just automatic. But what keeps me coming back is the kids’ energy. I can come to practice and can feed off that energy.

“There are times when you think, ‘How can I do this practice?’ And they pull you through. The guys are working hard and staying as positive as they can, and they are doing things that are going to make them better people.”

Mt. Blue goalie Xander Gurney comes out of the net to try to block a shot by Adam Loewen as Trent Beaudoin awaits a potential deflection during a boys soccer practice in Farmington on Tuesday Tony Blasi/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Smith’s contingent of athletes like being on the field as much as their coach, with whom they share a passion for the sport.

Cougars goalie Zander Gurney said that he feels that, as a senior, it is his duty to be at practices.

“Well, I am a returning senior. Actually, it is like my obligation to leave a legacy on the team and to all the freshmen and underclassmen, and just the seniors setting a good example to keep it going,” Gurney said.

As for the Friday Night Lights events, Gurney said they will be a welcomed change from the usual practices.

“It is a good way to get out and actually just not be confined to our practices that we really can’t play what I call real soccer, and we can compete against teams and have that competition,” Gurney said. 

Sophomore Brandon Frechette said staying with the team keeps him fit and alleviates the boredom of hanging around the house.

“Not much do at home, so (with the team we can) kind of exercise and have fun,” the midfielder said. “I grew up playing soccer. I love soccer a lot, looking forward to playing it.

“All my friends are out here playing. It’s pretty fun to hang out and have fun playing the sport.”

Junior center midfielder and Josh Smith, who is the coach’s son, has been around around soccer all his life and enjoys his senior teammates.

“I’ve been playing with (these) seniors all my life and to keep being around them is really nice,” Josh Smith said.

He said that he is not sure how Friday Night Lights will turn out, but he is willing to give it a try.

“I think it could be pretty cool. We haven’t done it, yet, so I really don’t know, but it definitely has the potential to be fun,” Josh Smith said. 

Of course, the Cougars miss the regular-season competition with other KVAC teams.

“I was looking at today’s paper,” Joel Smith said Tuesday, “and I see Lewiston and Edward Little played last night. Today was the day that it really set in when I saw that. It was like, ‘I am missing that.’

“I would love to be under the lights at Lewiston or playing EL down in the middle of their track, but this is just where we are at (now).”

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