JAY — Most members of the Regional School Unit 73 board of directors voted Tuesday night to allow low- and moderate-risk sports this winter.

On Dec. 10, the board voted 6-5 not to allow winter sports in the district.

Spruce Mountain High School freshman Mary Hamblin shared what winter sports means to her during a meeting Tuesday night in Jay. Regional School Unit 73 directors later voted to approve most winter sports. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

On Dec. 14, 21 student-athletes held a protest at which they held signs outside Spruce Mountain Middle and High schools in Jay.

About 25 people attended Tuesday’s special meeting at the middle school, with another 75 participating through the Zoom videoconferencing platform, according to Chris Hollingsworth, the district’s curriculum and technology coordinator.

Board Chairman Robert Staples read a letter from Dr. Michele Knapp, the district’s doctor, after she was asked for her opinion on allowing winter sports during the the COVID-19 pandemic.

In her letter, Knapp wrote she was concerned about the well-being of students and the entire community.

“I have concluded that it would be safe to proceed with winter sports, as long as we follow the recommended safety guidelines,” she wrote, noting that the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Maine Center for Disease Control & Protection have recommended allowing sports if safety guidelines are followed.

The district’s three nurses — Deanna Hamblin, Jennifer Kachnovich and Jessica Jewett — also wrote a letter of support.

In their letter, the nurses noted there had been no school-based transmission within the district, and decisions about students competing in sports should be made by families.

Betsy Mancine, who has worked in public health for 25 years, said she has watched physical, emotional and mental health deteriorate in the community.

“You, the board, have an incredible opportunity and responsibility,” she said. “If you don’t allow (student-athletes to play), I fear the outcome is going to be far greater than any fear you have over kids potentially getting sick and transferring COVID-19 to family/community.”

Freshman Mary Hamblin spoke emotionally of how participating in sports creates a bond among students and helps with mental wellness.

Sophomore Lucas Towers said other school districts have approved winter sports.

“Kids my age need to be out of the house with our peers,” he said. “Sports does that.”

Others spoke in support, either in person or from their homes. Most shared how sports impact students physically and mentally.

Director Joel Pike sought to approve winter sports programs with a requirement that all participating athletes spend at least 25% of “team time” each week focused on mental health activities, and report their compliance each month to the board.

“For me, this was the key thing I heard,” Pike said. “We have a responsibility to listen. Schools around the state are starting to look at this.”

The board unanimously agreed.

Alpine and Nordic skiing, considered low-risk sports, were approved unanimously.

Basketball, competition cheering and ice hockey, all moderate-risk sports, were approved, although not unanimously.

Athletic Director Marc Keller said the wrestling season is on hold. It is the only high-risk winter sport, and will be reevaluated by the Maine Principals Association the end of February.


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