JAY — Most Regional School Unit 73 directors voted in favor of allowing low- and moderate-risk sports at a specially called meeting Tuesday night, Dec. 22. 

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

On Dec. 14, student athletes held a protest in Jay. 21 students held signs and dozens of vehicles drove past the Spruce Mountain middle and high schools honking their horns in support. Spruce Mountain Cheer also set up an online petition that had garnered 422 signatures as of 1 p.m. Dec. 17.

A forum was held prior to actions by the board on Dec. 22. About 25 people attended the meeting at the middle school. 75 took part via Zoom, according to Curriculum/Technology Coordinator Chris Hollingsworth.

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

The letter noted she was concerned about the well being of students and the community at large.

“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 both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control recommend continuing with sports as long as the safety guidelines are followed.

The district’s three nurses, Deanna Hamblin, Jennifer Kachnovich and Jessica Jewett also wrote a letter supporting allowing winter sports. Reasons given included no school-based transmission within the district; sports playing decisions should be made by families; close monitoring by administrators; following the Department of Education’s color-coded county risk assessments; and sports can positively impact students’ well being, both mentally and physically.

Betsy Mancine, who has 25 years experience in public health and homeschools her children, said she has watched physical, emotional and mental health deteriorate in the community.

“You, the board, have an incredible opportunity and responsibility to stand on the side of true public health and wellness in favor of these kids playing,” she said. “If you don’t, I fear the outcome is going to be far greater than any fear you have over kids playing, potentially getting sick and transferring COVID to family/community.”

The appeal isn’t just for sports; music, drama and arts parents should be here fighting too, Mancine said.

“This is truly about a sense of common purpose and focus for these kids,” she said. “According to the CDC, ‘Youth who feel connected are less likely to experience negative health outcomes related to sexual risk, substance abuse, violence and mental health.'”

Connectedness and community have a positive impact on academic grades, test scores, attendance and staying in school, Mancine added.

Freshman Mary Hamblin spoke emotionally of the bonding and mental health playing sports provides her.

Sophomore Lucas Towers said sports is so much more than stepping on a court and that all schools around the district have approved winter sports.

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

Several others spoke in support of winter sports, either in person or from their homes. Most shared how sports can impact students, both physically and mentally.

Director Joel Pike wanted approved sports programs to include a requirement that all participating athletes this winter spend at least 25% of weekly team time focused on student mental health support activities and to report compliance to the board monthly.

“For me, this was the key thing I heard from students, parents, coaches, health care staff,” he said. “We have a responsibility to listen. Schools around the state are starting to look at this.”

Pike suggested district social workers could talk with athletes.

Director Ann Schwab said coaches aren’t counselors, some professional intervention might be needed.

“This is an aspect we should be looking into,” Director Phoebe Pike said. “If we can, do something like this to make sure we’re covering our athletes in every way we can.”

The board unanimously agreed on the amendment with its wording added to the approval of the different sports programs. All approved sports will also follow Maine Principals Association winter sports participation guidelines.

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

Basketball, a moderate-risk sport, was approved with directors Steven Langlin and Ann Schwab opposed and Lynn Ouellette abstaining.

Competition cheering, also moderate-risk, was approved with Langlin the only director opposed. This year, cheerleaders will make a video to submit for the KVC and state meets.  There will be no sideline cheering allowed this year.

Another moderate-risk sport, ice hockey, which has two students competing on a combined team made up of students from Maranacook, Lawrence and Madison high schools, was also approved. Directors Langlin, Schwab, and Sara Hughes were opposed.

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

The board will consider wrestling afterwards.

Comments are not available on this story.