LIVERMORE — Regional School Unit 73 directors Thursday, Jan. 28, agreed changes to the Maine Principals Association’s (MPA) guidelines for winter sports could be used at Spruce Mountain schools.

“About a week and a half ago, the MPA decided the color coding system they’ve been using was originally designated for academic purposes,” Spruce Mountain High School Athletic Director Marc Keller said.

“After meeting with the state health and education agencies, a change has been made regarding the color coding currently being used by schools. The color coding system will be used as advisory to in-person learning but will no longer apply to school-based activities. If it is deemed safe to do so by the local administration, teams may begin practicing, following the established sport-specific return to play guidelines,” a Jan. 20 email from the MPA to MPA member schools reads.

Schools in green counties could participate in athletic activities but schools in yellow counties could not, Keller said.

The MPA and CDC decided sports were okay in yellow counties, he noted.

Low- and moderate-risk winter sports were approved for Spruce Mountain in December at a special board meeting. Earlier in the month, all winter sports were voted down.

“The MPA and DHHS, the governor’s office decided that coding system doesn’t really apply to athletics,” Keller said. “Schools and teams from yellow designated counties are now allowed to participate in practices and competitions.”

There are 11 games scheduled at SMHS, Keller said.

Five of those are against schools in Androscoggin or Oxford counties, Spruce Mountain Middle School Athletic Director Craig Collins noted. Those counties are currently coded yellow.

“We’re asking permission to be able to participate against those schools with the understanding that we are in constant communication with the athletic directors from those schools to make sure we’re not putting our student athletes in a situation where they might come down with COVID,” Keller said.

He shared an example of where Spruce plays Buckfield but Oxford county is yellow because of an outbreak in Fryeburg. Why is Buckfield not able to participate because there is an outbreak in Fryeburg, he asked.

“We’d like to have the ability to make that decision through an informed decision with coaches and administration,” Keller said. “If this was 2010 and this (pandemic) was going on, Jay could not play Livermore Falls High School. It’s that close.”

“Our original motion basically said ‘following the guidelines of the district, MPA and the CDC,'” Board Chairman Robert Staples said.

“I’m very confident in our athletic directors,” Staples said. “If there’s an outbreak in Dixfield, we’re not going to play Dixfield that day.”

“The language of our motion does put it in the hands of the administrators who actually run our district,” Director Michael Morrell said. “Their decision is going to be what’s best for students at that time. Ours is what’s best for students sort of through the season.”

Superintendent Scott Albert said he has spoken with the nurses and school physician.

“Some other districts have already changed,” he said. “We’re already in a hybrid model, even though green, so it wouldn’t change what we do practice wise even if we became yellow.”

“I trust Marc and Craig,” Albert said. “Our nurses don’t have a problem with calling the school we know we’re going to play. I want to do it on a game by game basis. I do not want to say we’re going to play every game whether we’re yellow or they’re yellow.

“I don’t feel comfortable saying that,” Albert said.

The district has been taking things day by day or week by week academically, he said. All extra-curricular activities would be treated the same, he noted.

“I think we can handle this and do it safely for our athletes, for the rest of the student body,” Albert said.

Keller said he pays close attention to the schools Spruce would be playing against. A game scheduled for that evening against Mt. Abram was not held because that district had a shut down Monday, he said.

“If we have to go remote as a district, we will not be doing anything extra-curricular,” Albert said. “It does not matter why, but if we’re going remote we’re not playing or practicing.”

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