Abby Sirois participates in a Figure-8 sprinting drill on Monday during the Leavitt girls soccer team’s first day of practice. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Numbers for athletic participation are either down a bit or remain the same as previous seasons at several schools, but there is another ongoing problem — getting teams to away games.

Several athletic directors are reporting a shortage of bus drivers, and it is a genuine cause for concern as the fall season gets under way.

“The major issue this fall is going to be transportation and the lack of bus drivers in our district,” Edward Little athletic director Todd Sampson said. “We are currently down five route drivers and cannot have a bus depart EL before 4 p.m., during the school week. This will cause us to contract out to a private company for these trips.”

Edward Little’s participation numbers also have Sampson concerned for the fall season.

“(Our numbers are) low, but manageable. We are down 60 participants across the athletic department from 2020,” he said. “Football numbers are down, I believe, because we did not have a true season last year. Our girls volleyball numbers are down because our senior leader graduated and the coach moved out of state.”

He added that the girls volleyball junior varsity team might not happen because “JV volleyball currently has one athlete signed up and no coach.”

Leavitt and Mt. Blue high schools are also dealing with a bus-driver shortage.

Hornets athletic director Ryan Laroche said there are three issues that concern him: “Getting back to normal, transportation issues (not enough drivers), normal preseason issues.”

“To be honest, (transportation) is not a new problem,” LaRoche said. “I really don’t know why it is a problem, but it is a problem.”

LaRoche said he is seeing normal numbers this season.

“None of our programs have a lower turnout than usual,” he said. “Our numbers stayed consistent during the pandemic and are staying fairly normal into 2021. But there are several schools that are worried about JV programs for football, field hockey and soccer.”

There is no shortage of players for the Leavitt girls soccer program. The Hornets have depth, with nearly 40 athletes joining the team.

“We are really excited about our numbers,” Leavitt girls soccer coach Chris Cifelli said during Monday’s first practice of the season. “It is one of our biggest groups we’ve had. We had a great turnout last season, so we were really excited seeing a lot of the same faces, but even with the middle school not having a full season, we got in a lot of ninth graders to come in, too.”

Mt. Blue AD Chad Brackett said numbers are high in some sports and low in others.

“The total number of kids (on the first day of preseason) is about average,” Brackett said. “No programs are disbanding. Our biggest concern is getting the teams transported to away games. 

“We simply do not have enough trip drivers. Anyone interested should call the bus garage, 778-4307. It takes a very flexible schedule to be a trip driver for athletics. The departure and return times are tough to work around.”

Mt. Blue’s girls and boys cross country teams have added some new faces to the program.

“As of now, my rosters stand at 35 (18 boys and 17 girls),” Mt. Blue cross country coach Kelley Cullenberg said. “This is a few above what I’ve had the past few cross country seasons and considerably higher than this past track season — where I had 15 total on my roster. 

“I don’t think the numbers for cross country will decrease this season due to the fact that most of these athletes attended summer workouts when they could and already seem committed. I am so excited to work with these kids again and hopefully have the opportunity to compete. Our team was not allowed to compete last fall.”

But she will insist all COVID-19 protocols must be followed.

“We still have to be vigilant with practicing safety protocols so that we can avoid an outbreak at our school and on our team,” she said. “I am forever hopeful that we will be able to compete at all of the meets that are on our schedule to date, and this includes KVACS, regionals and states.”

Spruce Mountain athletic director Marc Keller said the number of athletes turning out is about the same as last year, but he is still looking to fill two paid football coaching vacancies. He added, “Boys and girls soccer will still not field enough for JV teams.”

Oxford Hills field hockey coach Cynthia Goddard also lamented the lack of bus drivers and how it might impact the season. She added that her numbers have fallen.

“(There was) no middle school program last year — just practices,” she said. “There were Pod A and B days so they never felt like a team. The (high school) program has missed a youth program for the past years.”

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