Students gathered outside of Spruce Mountain High School in Jay on Monday evening to protest the Regional School Unit 73 School Board’s decision to ban winter sports. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal Buy this Photo

JAY — A row of 21 Spruce Mountain High School students lined the curbside of their school’s entrance Monday evening to protest the Regional School Unit 73 Board of Directors’ decision to ban winter sports. As the athletes chanted, “Let us play,” a procession of 57 vehicles drove past blaring horns.

“The school board meeting was last Thursday and then as soon as that happened, the winter sports teams were instant, trying to get something going, trying to get anything to get a revote,” Owen Bryant, a sophomore basketball player, said while waving a sign that read, Give us a chance.’

Scott Bessey, the varsity boys basketball coach who also has two children in the school system, said that he was shocked at the board’s decision to forgo winter sports.

“I think we were all a little caught off-guard. I think we were all pretty confident that we were going to get a ‘yes’ vote with how things were trending with other schools and other votes in other districts,” Bessey said. “The reasons for the ‘no’ vote in the fall didn’t seem applicable here. The back-to-school stuff that the administration were all dealing with in the fall was pretty overwhelming. You add in the guidelines for the fall sports and it was a lot.”

In September, the board approved competitive golf and cross country while all other fall sports remained intramural.

Sophomore soccer player Emma Towers, who was present at the protest to support her peers, said that she was grateful to have had at least some opportunity to play during the fall season.

“I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity and not just sit home for a whole season,” Towers said. “And it was good because the one positive that I took out of it is, it gave us the opportunity to play with the boys and not just girls. It definitely expanded our skills.” 

Based on the board’s 7-5 vote at the Dec. 10 meeting, students will not have the opportunity to participate in any winter sport, either interscholastically or intramurally.

While students waved signs and chanted, ‘Let us play!’ outside of Spruce Mountain High School in Jay on Monday, 57 cars drove past honking horns to support the athletes, who are restricted from participating in winter sports after the school board’s decision last week. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

“That’s what was so hard about winter sports is because the superintendent was like, ‘Yeah, I’m for it, the MPA (Maine Principals’ Association) guidelines seem good,’ and then the school board — we don’t even know who they are — and they all say ‘no’ without any reasoning behind it,” Lorne Grondin, sophomore basketball player, said while holding a sign that read, ‘Let us play!’ 

At Thursday’s board meeting, Superintendent Scott Albert expressed his confidence in the MPA’s guidelines, which Bessey said were understandably severe.

During the protest, parents were emphasizing the need for something, any opportunity to play for sake of their children’s mental health.

“We’re always concerned about our kids’ mental health all of the time, and that’s why my spin on it has always been, ‘Well, what can we do?’” parent Denelle Gendron said. “Let’s take advantage of a new opportunity. You can’t just have nothing. There has to be something on the table for them in some form, and I think they would be happy with anything, I really do.”

RSU 73 community members are currently signing an online petition launched by the cheering team for the board to hold an emergency meeting to reconsider their decision. The petition has more than 350 signatures so far.

Spruce Mountain High School student-athletes, from left, Owen Bryant, Caleb Parlin, Chance Brooks, Lucas Towers, Lorne Grondin and Jayden Perreault at Monday’s student protest of the RSU 73 school board’s ban on winter sports. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal Buy this Photo

“I’m in hopes that now that the public has spoken up about wanting to be heard, and now that an emergency meeting has been scheduled, hopefully some of the nos, upon hearing some of the testimonies from the public and people, that they reconsider,” Bessey said.

Several student-athletes who were previously unaware of how school boards operated said that they would be paying more attention in general to the board’s decisions from here on out.

“I think I’ve realized that their decisions have more of an impact on the students than I had ever previously thought, especially with sports and even budgeting with how much that goes into extra curriculars,” Emma Towers said. 

Sun Journal sports reporter Randy Whitehouse contributed to this report.

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