Cheverus senior Victoria Bossong and other Maine high school track and field athletes will have the chance to defend state titles at meets that will look very much like meets of old. Press Herald file photo

Maine high school track and field state meets will go forward on June 5, marking the first time state championships will be held for running events since February 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. And the three meets will look remarkably like outdoor state championships of the past.

The Maine Principals’ Association’s Track and Field Committee hashed out the format for the Class A, B and C state meets on Thursday, overwhelmingly agreeing on fairly minor changes in an effort to assure the events are in line with state health guidelines.

The biggest change proposed would shrink the size of the field for each event from 32 to 24 competitors in an effort to ease crowding. The committee also seeks signs and announcements telling coaches, athletes and spectators to maintain 6 feet of social distancing from other teams, and requests mask-wearing by athletes except when they are competing or taking part in drills similar to competition.

The committee’s virtual meeting Thursday morning was held hours before Gov. Janet Mills announced the state would remove most COVID-19 restrictions, including capacity limits and physical distancing requirements at outdoor gatherings. MPA executive director Mike Burnham said late Thursday that guidelines for the state track meets and other championship events might be relaxed more than initially planned.

“The governor’s announcement this afternoon lifting the mask mandate totally, where no longer 6 feet of distancing is required, is probably going to impact what we do with track as well as all of our championships in terms of wearing a mask,” Burnham said.

The MPA on April 28 announced “masks are recommended when 6 feet of physical distance is hard to maintain, such as for athletes on the bench.”

“That April 28 update only mentions athletes on a bench,” noted the track committee’s chair, Freeport Athletic Director Craig Sickels, who spoke before Mills’ announcement. “We may add to that – such as athletes in the team area under a tent or athletes gathering around the starting blocks prior to an event. For track, we may have more examples of when masks may be worn – because that is different with each sport.”

The committee also agreed to hold the boys’ and girls’ meets simultaneously rather than separating them by gender. Relays also will be held even though the events can involve a large number of athletes gathering in one spot. And spectators will be allowed without limits, although social distancing will be requested.

Concession stands and award ceremonies will remain a part of the meets, the committee decided, although each will be adapted to adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols.

“The team asks every week and at every meet, what is happening with the state meet? The athletes will be thrilled,” said Chris Mazzurco, a member of the track committee who coaches North Yarmouth Academy as well as athletes from Maine Coast Waldorf School. “For me, it’s actually what I was hoping for – just small tweaks.”

Athletes who do not qualify will have to attend the meet as spectators, traveling to the meet independently and sitting in the stands, not with their team.

Hip numbers likely will only be worn by the distance runners and the anchor, or last leg, on relays, a change that will help cut down on athletes crowding around a check-in table. Instead, assigned lanes and heats for sprinting and hurdle events (which are run in lanes) will be posted online and around the tracks, and athletes will be expected to go directly to their lane prior to their race.

Venues have yet to be finalized, although possible sites include Massabesic, Morse and Brewer high schools.

Mt. Ararat Coach Diane Fournier, who has been the meet director at the Class A championships since 1984 and is on the committee, couldn’t wait to tell her team Thursday.

“I’m sure they will be overwhelmed and happy about the fact that it’s going to look pretty normal,” Fournier said. “The kids have done well. They were ready to race in masks.”

The MPA proposals will need to be approved by the state Department of Health and Human Services and the Maine Center for Disease Control, Sickels said.


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