Oxford Hills’ Marcus Stone, left, and Ty LeBlond stuff Bangor’s Eli Bradford during a game at Gouin Athletic Complex in Paris in September 2018. Brewster Burns photo

PARIS — Even with the knowledge that, as a lineman, he wasn’t going to be much more than a spectator for Oxford Hills’ 7-on-7 touch football scrimmage with Edward Little, senior Colin Edwards wore his green-and-gold No. 53 Vikings jersey and made sure to arrive at Gouin Athletic Complex early.

“I’m just happy to see us get something,” Edwards said. “It’s a little bit hard to not suit up. I was thinking on the car ride over here about not being able to take the field with them.”

But Edwards wasn’t going to miss a chance to be around his teammates for the first time in two weeks, after the Maine Department of Education changed Oxford County’s COVID-19 risk assessment for schools from “yellow” to “green,” allowing, among other things, fall sports practices and games to resume at schools such as Oxford Hills, Dirigo, Mountain Valley, Buckfield and Telstar high schools.

On the other end of the complex, the Vikings’ boys soccer team arrived for practice at the baseball field, having waited for field hockey and girls soccer to complete their sessions and leave the premises so as not to exceed state gathering limits.

Boys soccer coach Matt Dieterich took players’ attendance as they arrived, asking each to show him their phones to confirm, via an app linked to the school’s database, that they had gone through the required checklist screening for symptoms before leaving home.

The yellow designation, which came only four days after the SAD 17 approved going forward with fall athletics, also arrived on the day of the Vikings’ season-opener against Lewiston.

They knew they would be reunited in some way on Friday if the county went “green,” but in this autumn of schedule shuffling, they weren’t sure if it would be to practice or play until a few hours earlier.

“There was actually a chance we could have had a game tonight,” said Dieterich, whose team will instead open its season Monday against Fryeburg Academy. “If Androscoggin County had gone ‘yellow,’ they would have cancelled the 7-on-7 football game, and we were then going to play Lake Region tonight, but we can’t do both because there would be too many people in the facility.”

Boys soccer had five games canceled during the two-week break and is still hoping to schedule makeup dates or find new opponents, Dieterich said. Soccer teams are limited to 10 games, with no playoffs, this fall by the MPA.

Midfielder Keegan Watson, one of 11 seniors on the roster, first braced himself on Friday for another “yellow” designation, then for the inevitable rust when the Vikings got the go-ahead to return.

“I’m just happy to be back,” said Watson, a co-captain. “It’s been tough the last two weeks, but we’ve been trying to keep in shape with running and stuff.”

Getting on the field Friday gave athletes a chance to vent frustration that has been mounting since the summer regarding if, then when, fall sports would even go forward in Maine.

“The hardest part has been not knowing what you’ll get,” Oxford Hills senior quarterback Atticus Soehren said. “You go from, what, three different deadlines where they say they’re going to make a decision (on fall sports) and then they just spring the ‘yellow’ on you. Especially from our standpoint; I mean, York County hasn’t been able to do anything, but when we were fine all summer … and you just don’t know the benchmarks that are going to let you play and you’re just hoping. It’s a 50-50 shot. You don’t have any idea if it’s going to be ‘green’ or ‘yellow.'”

Oxford Hills quarterback Atticus Soehren fires a short pass over Edward Little defender Isiah Lewis in October 2019. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Both Dieterich and Mark Soehren, Atticus’ father and Oxford Hills’ varsity football coach, said they wouldn’t have thrown in the towel on a fall season with another delay.

“I think we would have taken whatever we could have gotten, but it would have been tough,” Dieterich said.

“We had two games that we didn’t play, so it’s not like we lost a ton, but we lost two weeks of practice,” Mark Soehren said. “I wasn’t really having communication with the kids at all because they didn’t have their computers. We didn’t have a really effective way to just talk with them. If we were gone two more weeks, we would have started position group (online meetings). I just worry that we would have lost kids.”

Soehren said all of his players were faithful to the practice schedule prior to the delay and all planned to return with the “green” designation.

“I think that’s pretty impressive,” Edwards said. “For kids like myself, I’m not looking to play in college or anything like that. This is it for me, so sometimes it might feel like, if there’s no season I’m coming out here and practicing for no reason. But it’s really more about just being with the guys. I love these guys so much, even though I may not be getting much out of it, football-wise, it’s still worth it just because of the relationships I have with my teammates.”

As Oxford Hills and EL’s junior varsity scrimmaged prior to the varsity exhibition, a smattering of Oxford Hills parents and students filled out a sign-in sheet for contact tracing in order to enter the complex, then spread out in the home bleachers.

As he has on many autumn Friday nights before, athletic director Kevin Ryan turned on the football field lights, but the Vikings still felt far removed from the true experience of Friday Night Lights.

“I’m just frustrated because 40 states are playing (tackle) football,” he said. “I’m not calling this a game. We’ll keep score for fun, but this is a drill.”

“I just hope to at least have fun with it,” senior Marcus Stone said. “Something is better than nothing.”

Like their peers across the state, the Vikings are holding out hope for a spring or even early-summer 11-man tackle football season. But that comes with its own participation concerns because it could conflict with other sports or college camps.

“That’s the dream at this point,” Atticus Soehren said of a spring schedule. “It’s hard to motivate when you have nothing, especially for the linemen. We have a great group of linemen here that are still showing up to practice. I don’t think many teams have that kind of chemistry.”

“I think that’s what we have to kind of look forward to keep kids coming out here for practice and stuff,” Edwards said.

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