Cumberland County school superintendents have decided to delay winter sports competition until Feb. 8 – limiting teams to two games per week – and to enact several other guidelines designed to mitigate risk of COVID-19 transmission among student-athletes.

John Suttie, the RSU 23 superintendent and principal at Old Orchard Beach High, said York County superintendents “will essentially adopt those same policies” when they meet on Friday morning.

The Cumberland County superintendents’ recommendations, determined in a meeting last Friday, were made necessary after the Maine Principals’ Association and state agencies reversed its previous stance and decided to allow schools in “yellow” counties to practice and play games.

The “yellow” designation, part of the state’s color-coded health advisory for schools, means a county has an elevated risk of COVID-19 transmission. Currently Androscoggin, Cumberland, Oxford, and York counties are yellow. Until the Jan. 20 policy change, schools in yellow counties could not hold any form of in-person athletic activity, let alone play games. The schools in Maine’s 12 “green” counties were able to begin interscholastic winter sports competition Jan. 11.

“We’re glad we’re able to move forward, just to give our students something of a winter season and we’re hoping we can extend things a little more,” said Jeff Porter, the superintendent of MSAD 51, which includes Greely High.

The key points of the Cumberland County superintendents’ winter sport season guidelines are:

•  No games prior to Feb. 8, allowing two weeks for player conditioning and for administrators to judge the efficacy of safety protocols.

•  A two-game-per-week limit, per team.

•  No team with a positive COVID-19 case among its players or staff can participate in competition until cleared to do so.

•  Districts can make a local decision on playing and practicing if school is in full remote learning.

•  No spectators and no volunteers at games.

•  All games should be streamed when possible.

•  Superintendents and athletic directors should maintain strong lines of communication between districts.

•  Face coverings are required for all practices and games.

Porter said the Cumberland County superintendents would like to see the winter season extended until the end of March. Currently, winter sports regular seasons are scheduled to end Feb. 27, with a two-week period for possible league or county-wide postseason running until March 13.

“Obviously that’s an MPA decision, but we’re recommending that the season be extended a couple weeks to the end of March and then we would kind of push back spring sports,” Porter said.

Because they cannot play games until Feb. 8 and are limited to two per week, Cumberland County teams will need to be able to play through the week of March 15-20 to get in a 12-game season allowed by the MPA.

“Talking about an extension is certainly a possibility but we’re approaching it as our first priority is protecting the spring sport athletes, where they’ve already lost their season (in 2020),” said Mike Burnham, the executive director of the MPA. “It’s a conversation we’re willing to have.”

There is also a suggestion that schools should try to schedule games against only one other district each week, though that may be nearly impossible, because not all schools participate in every winter sport.

Porter said, there will be an emphasis on creating regional cohorts, as was done in the fall season. He said the decision to limit teams to just two games per week was done with contact tracing in mind.

“We don’t want to be contact tracing multiple schools and limiting it to two per team outside of your own district, it felt like it was plenty. The contact tracing is quite a bit of work,” Porter said.

Whether media falls into the “no spectators, no volunteers” consideration is still open for debate.

Representatives of four conferences – the Southwestern Maine Activities Association, the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference, the Western Maine Conference and the Mountain Valley Conference – will meet Tuesday morning to try to come up with schedules that will allow regional competition among the conferences.

“We need to build the schedules back up,” said Gary Stevens, the athletic director at Thornton Academy. “This way we can create some cross-pollination among the conferences.”

Representing the SMAA will be Stevens, Gordie Salls of Sanford, Tim Spear of Gorham and Rich Drummond of Windham. Also planning to take part are Jason Fuller of Lewiston and K.J. Anastasio of Lincoln Academy (KVAC); Craig Sickels of Freeport (WMC); and Joel Stoneton of Winthrop (MVC).

Staff writer Mike Lowe contributed to this story.


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