Maine’s Community Sports Guidelines – a document that provided the framework for conducting youth and high school sports safely during the coronavirus pandemic – has been retired by the state.

The decision could pave the way for tackle football and wrestling to return to Maine high schools during the 2021-22 school year, and allow the Maine Principals’ Association to have greater autonomy in its decisions on interscholastic sports.

On Monday, the state Department of Economic and Community Development quietly withdrew all of its COVID-19 checklists on the same day Maine lifted its mask mandate in most indoor settings. The checklists have been replaced by a single general guidance document with safety recommendations.

“In light of the increased role the U.S. CDC has assumed in issuing guidance, the State of Maine made the decision to retire its COVID-19 Prevention Checklists and to transition to U.S. CDC guidelines as appropriate,” Kate Foye, a spokesperson for the department, said in an email. “The State of Maine has created one General Guidance document that entities may use. This guidance, which was posted on Monday, includes recommendations rather than requirements.”

The Maine Principals’ Association applied the Community Sports Guidelines to its decisions about which sports could be played – and how those sports would be played – to align with state safety protocols.

With the guidelines now retired, it is unclear what role, if any, state health and education agencies will continue to play in MPA decisions. MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham said Tuesday afternoon that his office would not comment until he had spoken with DECD Commissioner Heather Johnson and Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services.

A notable feature of the Community Sports Guidelines was grouping sports under high, medium or low risk categories depending on risk of COVID-19 transmission. Tackle football and wrestling were deemed “high risk” and could not hold competitions. They were the only two sports not played at Maine high schools during the 2020-21 school year.

“We’ve been dependent on the Community Sports Guidelines,” said Gary Stevens, the athletic director at Thornton Academy. “In fact, that’s what the holdup is for football and wrestling and why all the other sports are playing, is because of the Community Sports Guidelines.”

Stevens said he has not received any official notification from either the MPA or the Maine Department of Education about the elimination of the Community Sports Guidelines, if alternative guidance will be given, or if the administration of high school sports simply reverts to pre-pandemic practices.

“Up to this point, DECD and DHHS and the Department of Education has told the MPA to stay in your lane and we have to work in concert,” Stevens said. “And any time they’ve come up with specific instructions, they had to match up with the Community Sports Guidelines. That document, that’s been the litmus test, the barometer.

“If they don’t exist, that would suggest to me the MPA would have more autonomy.”

Yarmouth Schools Superintendent Andrew Dolloff said he will be looking to the Maine Principals’ Association for guidance.

“Knowing that the MPA is in close contact with DHHS and DECD and the DOE and so forth, we would look to them to say, ‘Are all sports able to be played? Can we compete against schools from other parts of the state? Are there any specific guidelines or safety measures?'” Dolloff said. “I would look to them for some statewide recommendations.”

Before the pandemic, the MPA was singularly responsible for deciding which sports to sponsor, administering championships, and setting playing rules. Both Dolloff and Stevens said they anticipate, and favor, letting the MPA make the decisions about interscholastic activities.

Burnham said the MPA’s Sports Medicine Committee will meet on Wednesday morning. The agenda already was going to include discussions on football and wrestling, as well as the MPA’s summer workout guidelines for athletes and coaches.

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