The Maine Principals’ Association announced Thursday, Sept. 10 that most fall sports have been given the green light to play under its revised “School Sports Guidance: Return to Competition for Competitive Athletics and Activities in Maine” policy. The two exceptions are football and indoor volleyball.
Weighing in on the return to participation policies with the Maine Principals’ Association were the National Federation of State High School Associations, the Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, the Maine Department of Education, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, the Maine Department of Community and Economic Development, and the Maine Principals’ Association Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.
The guidelines are meant to decrease potential exposure of COVID-19 in sports and activities to a degree that competition, at both the community level and the school-based level, can occur. The School Sports Guidance generally aligns with the General Guidance for Community Sports Activities that was updated by the state on Sept. 1.
The guidelines break activities down into six levels, as follows:
Level 1: Performing skill-building drills or conditioning at home, alone or with household members.
Level 2: Team-based practice with physically distanced group activities.
Level 3: Within-team competition (e.g., intrasquad scrimmages). This level of play involves one cohort of participants.
Level 4: Competition between teams from the same geographic area (e.g., the same county and in some cases adjacent counties). This level of play involves two cohorts of participants.
Level 5: Competition between teams from different geographic areas within Maine.
Level 6: Competition between teams from different states.
Golf and cross-country are considered in the lower-risk category and permitted levels of activity are Levels 1-5.
Soccer and field hockey are in the moderate-risk category and permitted levels of activity are Levels 1-4.
Football is in the higher-risk category and permitted levels of activity are Levels 1-3, which excludes competition against other teams.
General guidelines include a daily health screening for athletes, coaches, officials, and any other athletic personnel; washing hands regularly; and social distancing when off the field, including sitting 6 feet apart in the bench area. Participants must bring their own water bottles.
In sports where mouthguards are required, they must be kept in the mouth while playing, and when taken out of the mouth, must be disinfected and hands sanitized.
Masks must be worn to and from the sports venue, in meetings with officials, while stretching, while on the bench, and at other times when not playing.
Coaches, staff, spectators, and officials must wear a mask at all times. Officials must use artificial noisemakers, such as an air horn in place of a whistle, or keep the whistle inside their face covering.
No more than 100 may gather outside at one time (including athletes, spectators, and officials), under an executive order from Gov. Janet Mills.
Spectators must stay 6 feet apart from each other and from players. “Prohibiting cheering and yelling is recommended. Clapping, ringing cowbells, and other activities that do not involve the projection of respiratory droplets are low-risk alternatives,” according to the guidelines.
Schools need to inform participants and spectators of district COVID-19 policies and place signage at entrances and throughout venues.
While being transported by bus, individuals need to space out and windows should be open if weather permits. Face coverings must be worn on the bus and hands sanitized before boarding the bus and after exiting.
Golf: Players must observe 6 feet of social distance and wear face masks when not playing. No hugging, shaking hands, or fist bumps are allowed. It is recommended that all golfers start from the same tee, with expanded spacing between groups. Players should not touch or remove flagsticks or use bunker rakes. Players must provide their own tees, pencils, ball markers, and sharpies, and bring their own snacks and water. Cards will not be exchanged. Instead, players will verbally agree on hole-by-hole scoring. No players will be allowed in a cart, unless necessary, and then a player must ride alone and the cart must be sanitized.
Cross-country: It is recommended that courses be widened to 6 feet at their narrowest point. Team tents must be placed 20 feet apart and athletes must maintain 6 feet of spacing while in tents. Runners should wear face coverings to the start line of the race. Disposable masks are to be discarded in trash receptacles at the starting line, and other masks must be carried with the runner.
It is recommended to divide the starting line to accommodate spacing based on the number of runners. Waves should be stationed 6 feet apart. “Cross-country meets should consider using staggered, wave, or interval starts,” the guidelines say. Warmups should not be worn to the starting line.
Field hockey and soccer: Home teams shall provide hand sanitizer at the scorers table and at each team bench. Visiting teams should provide their own balls and bring their own water. Bench areas may be expanded to promote social distancing. All participants and coaches must wear face coverings while on the bench or in the bench area. Masks may be removed while hydrating so long as the person is 6 feet from anyone else.
Pregame conferences will be limited to one official, the head coach, and one captain from each team. Handshakes before and after games have been suspended. Instead, coaches and players can use a good sportsmanship wave.
Balls should be cleaned and sanitized throughout the game. Players must keep their mouthguards in throughout the game. If removed, they should be disinfected and the player must wash their hands.
Visiting team personnel, including scorers and timers, should sit 6 feet apart at the scorers table or sit in an alternative location.
Field hockey only: Players should avoid touching the ball with their hands and instead use their stick or foot to move the ball during stoppage of play and on the sidelines.
Soccer only: Stop the clock at the 20-minute mark of each half to take a water break and allow for sanitizing hands and game balls.
Slide tackling is suspended if players are within 6 feet of another player. Any slide tackle within 6 feet of an opponent will result in an indirect free kick for dangerous play.
On throw-ins and corner kicks into the penalty area (including the arc at the top of the penalty box), only five offensive players and five defensive players, plus the goalie, are allowed in the penalty box at the time of the throw or the kick. Other players can enter the box once the throw or kick has been played.
On all indirect and direct free kicks, players must reasonably remain at least 3 feet from each other (arm’s length). This eliminates the traditional wall and jostling for position in front of a goalkeeper.
The drop-ball restart has been suspended. Instead, the referee will award an indirect kick to the team they deem to be in possession.
Lincoln Academy Athletic Director K.J. Anastasio said masks will be worn in all practices, and possibly games, depending on the number of cases in the county. The school hopes athletes will not have to wear masks in games, he said.
Anastasio said there are still a dozen KVAC schools that have not decided whether to allow sports yet. Until they decide, schools will not have schedules.
Teams will be able to play teams from neighboring counties, including Knox, Sagadahoc, and Kennebec.
There will be no spectators throughout the conference, according to Anastasio, although he hopes to make an exception for senior night.