From the first practices in August, Dean Plante could tell things were looking brighter. Unlike the previous two falls, he wasn’t consumed with viewing high school sports through a pandemic prism. Neither were the student-athletes.

“I sensed it from Day One. The kids, it was like a big exhale, just a sigh of relief,” said Plante, the athletic director and football coach at Old Orchard Beach High. The athletes weren’t plagued with uncertainty by “those looming thoughts of ‘Are we going to get every game in? Is the other team going to be able to play?'”

For the first time in three years, high school teams competing in fall sports were able to make it through the season without pandemic restrictions or significant COVID interruptions. The season comes to a conclusion on Saturday with four football state championship games.

“I’ve really only known high school to be full of restrictions and mask mandates, and it was just really fun (this fall),” said Elise MacNair, a senior captain on the Old Orchard girls’ soccer team. “Everyone enjoyed themselves. We could play more freely. It wasn’t worrying about constantly testing for COVID.”

Two falls ago, the tackle football and indoor volleyball seasons were called off because of the coronavirus pandemic, while postseason playoffs and championships were canceled for all sports but golf. Field hockey and soccer teams faced shortened seasons against teams from their own counties, if they were able to play at all. Sports were shut down entirely in counties labeled “yellow” or “red” under the state’s color-coded system for risk of virus transmission.

Even last fall, when state championships were held across the state, dozens of games were canceled during the season because of COVID outbreaks. Then came the delta variant of coronavirus and skyrocketing case loads in schools. The new buzzwords became vaccination rates, close contacts and pool testing. Players and fans had to wear masks for volleyball matches inside gyms.



This fall, pandemic restrictions have been lifted at schools, thanks to vaccine access and other tools to contain spread of the virus. Players and coaches are grateful for a return to normal.

Jack Brochu is a senior football player at Thornton Academy, one of the teams playing for a state title on Saturday. His mother, Erica, is as a nurse at Northern Light Health who worked with COVID patients in 2020. Brochu sat out that fall – football teams were limited to 7-on-7 flag football in 2020 – at his mother’s urging, but he played as a junior and senior. This year was the first, he said, without any reservations.

“She was still really uneasy (last year), but she felt better knowing I had gotten both vaccines, the booster and everything I could do. She was much more willing to let me play football this year,” he said. “It just felt a lot more normal than last year. … This year felt way more comfortable than the past years.”

Brochu was thrilled that the homecoming pep rally returned after a three-year hiatus.

“It was just an amazing feeling, to be there with the whole senior class and have a good time,” he said.


Skowhegan field hockey coach Paula Doughty said that while her players had a full season last year, they were more at ease this fall.

“It took them quite a while just to learn to be social again,” she said. “Last year they said to me, every two days, ‘Are we safe?’ I’d look around and go ‘I guess so, I hope so. Looks safe to me.’ No one’s asked me this year if they’re safe. It is very nice.”

On the volleyball court, players got to finally shed their masks for the first time since COVID’s arrival. Gardiner coach Tiffany Ouellette said that her players stayed positive about wearing masks last year, but were relieved to play without them this season.

“Playing with a mask does restrict your breathing, and I think it affects your game a little bit,” she said. “It’s hard to add something to your face when you’re already trying to run around and play a sport. We were definitely glad to not have them.”

Without restrictions on participation or requirements to wear masks, athletes were excited to get back in the gym, said Jim Senecal, who retired as Yarmouth High’s volleyball coach shortly after the Clippers won a fourth straight Class B championship in October.



“They would come to practice a half-hour early and would just love being with each other and that was fun to see again because that’s what makes our sport fun and great,” Senecal said. “It was just a different vibe.”

This fall, coaches and administrators were without a constant sense of dread, wondering which students would test positive for COVID on a daily basis.

“The concern is always there, but luckily we had very few cases (this fall), where last year you might have 20 cases you had to manage at once, and then when would they be able to play,” said Sarah Holmes, the Yarmouth athletic director.

Players feared it as well. At any moment last fall, their season could come to a temporary or permanent halt.

“We almost had about five positive cases (last year). It was a bit scary, knowing that we might get shut down because a few teams at our school did get shut down, and we were literally one case away,” said Khianna Jackson, a senior this fall on the Biddeford field hockey team. “It was very nerve-racking.”

But this school year offered a respite from the anxiety. “It just seemed like we could almost start fresh this fall,” Holmes said.

MacNair, the Old Orchard soccer player, said she saw a difference in team chemistry and overall conditioning. With more confidence that the 2022 season would be complete and competitive, she said more players reported to preseason in better shape because of increased participation in summer programs.

“Honestly, the best part was just the team atmosphere,” MacNair said. “This was the first year where I left like our team was friends on and off the field because we were allowed to do some team bonding stuff outside of practice.”

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