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

Spruce Mountain sophomore Lucas Towers is grateful the school board did an about-face and voted to allow winter sports to begin, but he also saw it as kind of a civics lesson.

The Regional School Unit 73 board of directors voted Tuesday night to allow low- and moderate-risk sports this winter, reversing its decision on Dec. 10 when it voted 6-5 not to allow winter sports in the district. The students responded by holding a rally at the middle and high schools on Dec. 14.

“It feels good know that our voices were heard,” said Towers, a shooting guard for the Phoenix. “All the rallying and the push back against the original vote, you know, it all paid off.”

Towers is elated that he and his teammates will be playing together against other teams. Under state gathering rules, only 50 people will be allowed in the gym during games, which will also be streamed live.

“It feels good even if it is not the season we would normally have, it is better than nothing.” he said. “It is better than intramurals like it was in the fall. I am around my guys. That’s all I wanted.

“Even if they, let’s say, they voted no, I still want to be around the guys that I am traditionally with. It feels good,” he said.

This past fall only golf and cross country teams were approved for interscholastic competition at Spruce Mountain, but football, soccer, field hockey and cheering could play intramurals.

“It is all the hard work that we put into the push back … paid off so…,” Towers said. “We thank the school board for changing their minds. It means a lot that they took what we had to say seriously about mental health.”

The district’s doctor and three nurses wrote letters supporting the proposal to allow students to participate in winter sports.

Spruce Mountain boys basketball coach Scott Bessey said it was a win-win situation for the school’s athletes.

“I think they (board) did the right thing after hearing from the community the second time,” Bessey said. “(The kids) needed this.”

But Bessey said there will be ups and downs this season with COVID-19 still in play.

“You got to understand, too, that the state has their own rules,” he said. “This (board decision) doesn’t override anything that can happen like if Franklin County goes yellow. We are not playing. We understand that.

“The county is yellow. Nothing is going on. Things are cancelled. We understand that,” he said. “But the school board not to letting us adhere to those guidelines was disappointing the first time. I think they got it right the second time.”

Schools in Franklin County and other parts of the state were allowed to begin individual skills and drills on Dec. 4. The Maine Principals’ Association pushed the start of team practices back from Dec. 14 to Jan. 4 for moderate- and high-risk sports due to the rise of COVID-19 cases in the state.

The state’s guidelines for winter sports also include mask-wearing at all times for all athletes except swimmers. Bessey said Spruce athletes are ready to do whatever it takes to get back in action.

“Yeah, it is all been about the kids. Their quality of life has just kind of deteriorated significantly. They will follow the rules,” he said. “They have been great. They have been superstars from the start and they will be now, too, to follow these guidelines because these guidelines are pretty rigid and severe.” 

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