Dirigo High School assistant principal and athletic director Jess McGreevy, right, and RSU 56 school psychologist Jessica Swan package meals for students at Dirigo Middle School in Dixfield in May. Submitted photo

Athletic directors said the stress of making tough choices during a world-wide pandemic is nothing compared to the level of empathy and pride they feel toward their high school athletes.

“I think I am more stressed out for our athletes because they were kind of strung along at the beginning and then left in the dark … and all of a sudden, ‘Oh, yeah, you can play,’” Buckfield AD Cortney Sirois said. “I feel more stressed out for them. Basketball season seems to be a little better as far as having a specific date we are going to start. We will see with the rise in (COVID-19) cases.”

Shuffling schedules and implementing COVID-19 guidelines to keep athletes safe made for a frantic year for high school ADs.

“Game set-up was a big change this year,” Sirois said. “We didn’t allow fans, but we had to have sanitizing stations. We had to set players’ benches 6 feet apart. We had to make sure everybody was wearing masks.”

Sirois said the abbreviated season was tough to swallow for the Buckfield athletes.

“They got to play, and yes, they were happy about that, but there was no championships,” she said. “There was no league championship. There was no state championship for them to play for this year, and that was very disappointing for them.”

Like all athletic directors, Mt. Blue’s Chad Brackett is trying to get a clear picture of what the future holds for the winter season.

“It has been an incredibly difficult year, but more so for the kids,” Brackett said. “Kids’ perspectives are different from ours. Because they are kids, and they don’t see that maybe some decisions are made in their best interest.

“As tough a year as it has been for us, it is important to remember it has been even tougher for the kids. … I’ve been doing this for five years, and aside from adverse situations, this one by far takes the cake. I thought soggy fields and bad weather were the worst of some of our problems — then this (comes).

“We are in the business of opportunities for kids, and this (coronavirus) significantly diminishes what kind of opportunities they can have. Trying to figure out what is still on the board for opportunities has been tricky for everybody.”

Edward Little athletic direct Todd Sampson said it feels like the Red Eddies are in a standstill.

“Having missed almost a complete year now of seeing kids truly compete and seeing that growth, not just athletically but socially, and with leadership, it is almost that all of that stuff has been paused,” Sampson said. “That has been the hard piece for me. That is really the joy of this job, seeing that.”

Sampson, who remains positive and optimistic, said athletic directors are like the fashion industry in that they are always looking ahead to the next season, but COVID-19 has put the kibosh on any advanced planning. All they know right now is that Monday is the first day coaches can start contacting coaches for individual workouts.

“Because where we are, I don’t have any winter schedules right now,” he said. “I don’t have any winter opponents. Right now, we are ‘yellow’ in this county, so I really don’t even know if we are going to be able to start practices next week.

“Everybody’s got a plan in place and we are ready to go next Monday with sanitation and masks and doing the things we need to do for our kids to be safe. I just hope they get that opportunity.”

Despite the threatening coronavirus, Dirigo athletic director Jessica McGreevy focuses on the positive.

“The hardest part for me was going into the fall season and not being sure if we were going to play at all,” she said. “We got into this job because we love working with kids and love seeing them get onto the fields. It was a moment of relief when we could host our first game. It has been challenging but rewarding at the same time.”

McGreevy is proud of the way Dirigo’s athletes have handled the crisis.

“They have approached this year with a level of grace and maturity that I have just been blown away with. I have been so impressed,” she said. “Our kids have been so resilient this year because things have changed on a moment’s notice.”

Poland athletic director Don King said that it has indeed been a difficult time for ADs, who are forced to change plans at the drop of a hat.

“The difficulty for the last nine months is there haven’t been any answers for us,” he said. “I think my principal called me an event planner one day. I think that’s kind of what we want to do — ‘let’s figure out how we are going make this happen,’ and we haven’t been able to come up with those answers to do that.”

He finds it difficult to instruct kids to show up on time, not early, and leave right after a game to in an attempt to avoid transmission of the virus. He added that masks also take away facial expressions, and having sidebar conversations on the field with athletes has all but disappeared.

“It has been frustrating and very impersonal,” King said. “I think kids need to know that people care about them, and they get that by seeing the things that we do for them — and we just haven’t been able to do those things for them.”

King can’t understand the public criticism over decisions made by Gov. Janet Mills and the Maine Principals’ Association to ensure that children and adults remain safe as well as take precautions to slow down COVID-19.

“I think what most people don’t realize is all the people that are making these decisions — whether we like them or not — those people are making decisions with the information they have in the best interest of the people they serve,” King said. “There is not a manual on making the right decision.”

Sirois said she could have never imagined a year that would be turned upside down by a deadly pandemic.

“Not in a hundred years; not in my lifetime, anyway,” she said. “I just want to give a shoutout to all the athletic directors out there who have been put in a situation — where they have risen above and beyond for their athletes — and it shows just how much we care about our kids. I am grateful to work with the group of people that I do.”

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