When will Maine say sure to highschool soccer?

Sophomore Riley St. Pierre is slimming weights in the weight room at Marshwood High in South Berwick on Thursday. St. Pierre played on the school’s soccer team as a freshman, but the Hawks were unable to play tackle football this school year due to Maine’s COVID-19 safety protocols. Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer Buy this photo

Marshwood High soccer coach Alex Rotsko looked around the almost deserted weight room on Thursday. Only one soccer player used the facility.

“It’s kind of sad,” said Rotsko. “It almost feels like I’m starting over, like I came here nine years ago.”

Under Rotsko, Marshwood was one of the state’s premier programs, winning five of the last six Class B titles.

He knows there are several reasons he’s not seeing normal attendance in the school’s weight room this spring, including fewer personal students during the pandemic and no options for late bus transport.

Marshwood soccer coach Alex Rotsko: “Here we are in May and we haven’t played in a year and a half and we still don’t know if we’ll play this fall.” Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer Buy this photo

But for Rotsko there is another factor that is causing the empty weight room: tackle football is not yet approved for this fall.

Maine was one of only four states (along with Vermont, Connecticut, and Hawaii) that didn’t offer football in the 2020-21 school year. Of these four states, Maine is the only state that has still approved the sport for fall 2021.

Maine football teams played 7-on-7 flag football last fall, and a tackle season has been considered for the spring. This idea was discarded at the end of January.

“We just did it like last year and now we’re here in May and we haven’t played in a year and a half and we still don’t know if we’ll play this fall,” said Rotsko.

Football and wrestling, the only sports not played in Maine in 2020-21, are still classified as high-risk in the state’s Community Sports Guidelines and are banned from hosting competitions. The Maine Principals’ Association based its COVID-19 guidelines on the Community Sports Guidelines and made adjustments after the state made changes.

The coaches interviewed for this story believe that major Maine health officials will at some point change or withdraw the Community Sports Guidelines, and the MPA will then quickly give the green light to football.

“The MPA Football Committee met on May 4th, and the MPA Sports Medicine Committee met the next day. In both sessions it was clear – and the overarching theme was – that these two committees support a full return to the fight against football. Unanimously, ”said Dan O’Connell, a member of both committees and a football coach and sports director at John Bapst in Bangor.

However, Rotsko and other coaches fear that the longer it takes for football to be approved, the more difficult it will be to motivate players who are unsure about a season this fall.

“You will always have kids working their bums off no matter what,” said Rotsko, “but many will say,” Look at all the efforts that this year’s seniors have made and they haven’t had a chance to play. Am I going to do this for two years now and then find out that I am not going to play? ‘That’s a lot to ask of a child. And a trainer. “

Cony High Coach BL Lippert agrees.

“A lot of our (athletes) are football slash wrestling players. They missed a lot of time and instead of sitting around they have new hobbies, jobs or something, ”he said.

“We may have to convince them to get back to football.”

A DIFFERENT LANDSCAPE TODAY

When a group of Maine’s health and education agencies shut down football for fall 2020, there were cries of protest from coaches, players and parents.

But the decision in the context of the time wasn’t particularly surprising.

The University of Maine and all of the state’s Division III college football programs have canceled their fall season. Most of the colleges in Maine had no fall sports at all. Among the states of New England, only New Hampshire played high school football. A total of 16 state high school associations, including California and many on the East Coast, have pushed football out of the fall season.

At the time, Maine’s designation of football as a high-risk sport was in line with return-to-game guidelines set out by the National Federation of State High School Association.

However, the national federation abolished risk stratification from sport to sport in its COVID-19 safety protocols in early February. Instead, the association emphasizes that the key factors for minimizing risk are sport (outdoors or indoors) and transmission by the community.

O’Connell said MPA leaders asked to meet with key government agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as state superintendents’ associations and school boards.

“We will continue to advocate football and wrestling, but especially to take the risk factors out of the guidelines so we can get back to all sports,” said O’Connell.

DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said during the press conference on Wednesday that the state plans to switch its COVID-19 prevention checklists, including the Community Sports Guidelines, from the current Maine-specific framework to US CDC guidelines. Lambrew said the immediate priority is adjusting the company’s checklists.

“When it comes to fall sports, we still have work to do,” said Lambrew.

The Maine Athletic Trainers’ Association supports a full return for both football and wrestling.

“Since we’re with the kids, we’ve seen the data that backs up the fact that any transmission in this age group is not an athletic transmission. They come from the community, ”said John Ryan, group president and certified sports coach in South Portland.

A year ago there were soccer coaches who agreed not to play. It was obvious that the close physical contact of the sport at every game could contribute to the spread of viruses. It was also recognized that school principals should prioritize the safety of students and teachers in an academic setting before entering a field on Friday night.

“I wasn’t one of those coaches out there who said we should play,” said Cheverus coach Mike Vance, noting, “I didn’t mean to be on the wrong side of history.” I was concerned for the health of our children and all family members who may have had health problems. “

TIME TO LIGHT ALL SPORTERS GREEN

Now there is significantly more evidence that sports – especially education-based athletics – can be played safely.

“We did indoor sports and that was done well. We did contact sports and that is well done, ”said Vance. “In my opinion, it is time to give the green light to athletics – all athletics. And I think we’ve clearly seen across the country that the vast majority of high school soccer programs are already making progress. “

According to current state guidelines, soccer practice and even intrasquad scrimmage are allowed. Even if the decision to play football is dragging on, coaches can set up typical training sessions in the summer, including 7-on-7 leagues and participation in football camps.

“Last summer there was a long stretch where we couldn’t even use a ball,” Lippert recalled. “We may be a little limited in the number of people who can be in the weight room at the same time, but there is nothing we absolutely cannot do right now,” when it comes to normal summer prep.

Maine welcomes tourists from all over the world this summer. As of Monday, outdoor sports and entertainment may be at full capacity and Maine’s mask mandate will be lifted, although masks are still required in schools.

For O’Connell, these decisions by government agencies to return to near-normal prepandemic conditions can be applied to education-based activities.

“Anyone from another country and from all over the world can come here. The same kids who might be playing soccer on a Friday night are waiting for these people in the restaurants, bars, and stores they shop in, ”said O’Connell. “If they can do that to boost the economy, then by Friday night they should be able to put on helmets and strive for them.”

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