PARIS — Schools in 12 Maine counties started their winter sports season on Jan. 11. Four more, those with “yellow” caution designations made by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Maine Department of Education are in limbo, as all after-school activities have been suspended. Those counties are Oxford, Androscoggin, Cumberland and York.

In Oxford Hills, the gym is closed. There are no team practices, no drills. Coaches are working to keep their athletes engaged through Zoom Conferencing, leading conditioning activities. Individual basketball players work on their scoring if they have access to outdoor hoops.

But cheerleaders cannot work on their routines. Wrestling is in even more limbo, as it is a close contact sport. The most recent recommendation announced by the Maine Principals’ Association delays the start of that season until February 22 – which is when the athletes are normally far into the play-offs.

As for play-offs, there will be none this year, even for the schools that have been able to start their seasons.

Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School’s Cassidy Dumont takes her shot during a play-off game last season. This year there will be no play-offs and no spectators at games, if Oxford County’s season is able to start at all. courtesy Brewster Burns

Nordic and alpine skiers can practice independently, Oxford Hills’ Athletic Director Kevin Ryan explained, as outdoor sports have fewer health risks. Normally the alpine team practices twice a week, at Lost Valley in Auburn and Mt. Abram in Greenwood, with races being held at various ski mountains on Saturdays.

The Nordic ski team holds its practices at the school, at Roberts Farm Preserve in Norway and at Quarry Road on Paris Hill.

But Ryan said the main focus for coaches now is not on XXs and OOs [game plans] but emotional support and engagement. The kids can only try to make the best of it.

“I see a lot of my teammates at school so we stay in touch that way for the most part,” said Cassidy Dumont, a key player on OHCHS’ championship basketball teams. “And we have a home workout schedule where we pair up in small groups on FaceTime. It helps us stay motivated and we get to see each other and have a “practice” of sorts, even when we can’t be in the gym together.”

Dumont said Girls’ Basketball Coach Nate Pelletier has gone out of his way to keep in touch with the team and make they are all doing okay. He leads team wide Zoom meetings twice a week.

“The players talk can about the workouts for that week and share thoughts,” Dumont said. “And we do other team-building activities together [then]. Like just the other day we had a bingo night over Zoom.”

But while she is itching for the first tip off, Dumont feels fortunate to not be under a lot of pressure this season. She has earned two gold balls with the Oxford Hills’ girls basketball team and she has already punched her ticket for next year and season.

“This time next year I hope to see myself at Clarkson University,” she said. “Right in the middle of my first college basketball season.”

Elias Soehren, a sophomore in OHCHS’ boys basketball program, is frustrated by the delays and isolation.

“My life before quarantine was sports and not being able to play sports and just [weight] lifting is starting to get old,” Soehren said. “Sports would make me happier.

“My teammates and I keep in touch through social media, like Snapchat. But we don’t get to see each other like last year. And being with new team members this year since seniors left, it could really bring our team chemistry down.”

As an underclassman, Soehren is anxious to take his basketball play to the next level. He’s concerned about the playing time and film study that he and his teammates are missing out on.

“Kids could be looking for scholarships to pay their college tuition through sports,” he said. “And without being able to play it might be tough for them. Or maybe some kids might not want to play sports anymore as well because of all the time they couldn’t play – they’ve just gotten used to not playing and sitting down all day on the couch or in bed.

Oxford Hills’ multi-sport athlete Eli Soehren was able to play football last fall, but he worries that his sophomore basketball season is slipping away. courtesy Brewster Burns

“This quarantine is really setting kids back and we need to start sports soon. It’s bigger than just a sport. Our coaches try to reach out to us via email but it’s hard to do much right now with COVID, and nowhere is open.”

Soerhen hopes his sophomore season is not completely lost. He is determined to make up the difference down the road, and then some.

“This time next year I will be a junior and trying to get more looks at my play,” he said. “I think we will be winning lots of basketball games with a team that wants to win.

“If we don’t get our sports back by next year though, it will be a huge mistake by the state and will make things way worse. Sports is more than just playing [the game]. You get a family from it and without it, it is making everything worse.”

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