The Boothbay-Boothbay Harbor Community School District committee approved winter sports Dec. 1.The committee approved guidelines and the first three of four levels Maine Principals Association set forth.
Boothbay Region High School Athletic Director Allan Crocker said the winter sports season will include only basketball and cheering, both classified as moderate risk sports; and Lincoln Academy will opt out of a cooperative swim team with BRHS.
The first three levels of the MPA’s system will begin the week of Dec. 7 with level one: Skills, drills and conditioning. Levels two and three mesh in a month-long preseason with the “traditional practice,” drills and inter-squad scrimmages, said Crocker. “Assuming the state says we can progress to level four, Jan. 11 is when we would potentially start to play against teams in the same county or adjacent counties.”
Crocker said he, BRHS Principal Tricia Campbell and Facilities and Maintenance Director Dave Benner have been working to satisfy MPA guidelines and all best-practice safety precautions: COVID-19 training, which coaches have already completed; limiting the time athletes are in the gym and limiting practices to 1.5 hours; requiring masks be worn at all times except for drinking water and changing masks; keeping locker rooms off limits, so athletes need to be ready coming into the gym; requiring athletes bring their own equipment when possible; disinfecting bathrooms and equipment between practices; preventing access to other parts of the building during practices; and keeping the bleachers empty during games.
Said Crocker, “I don't want to sit here and say there's no risk. We all know that by doing this, there is an assumed risk. I think we're talking about minimizing risk.”
Several teachers and coaches spoke in favor of a winter sports season while others cautioned the committee to play it safe, forgoing sports to ensure the health and safety of students, teachers, staff and towns.
Gifted and Talented Director Emily Higgins asked the committee to consider basketball a contact sport and Maine’s increasing rates of COVID-19 and decreasing access to healthcare. “This is real. This is here. We have faculty members with newborns, faculty members who are pregnant, who are older with considerable health risks … We should be looking at our kids' needs first, but without the teachers and the support staff and everybody else, we can't teach … I would like to see all my colleagues and all of you guys here and healthy in the fall ... I'd like to ask the board to make a hard decision rather than what is the most popular or the easier decision. Basketball will be here when COVID is done and I would like all of us to be here, too.”
Varsity girls basketball coach Brian Blethen argued for a season. “Adversity equals opportunity and we have an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to our young people, to our program … and I think that we can remain committed to providing things like basketball and other winter sports if we're … willing to set up safety protocols and take the necessary measures to offer sports in a safe manner.”
Blethen said commitment will mean adhering to all MPA and Maine Department of Education protocols. “To just hang it up and say we can't do it and provide them with a safe opportunity to participate, I don't think that's the message we want to send our student-athletes.”
Tennis coach Mark Gorey implored the board to look at the science of the virus and the logic of keeping everyone safe in their current social bubbles to preserve the healthy learning environment CSD administrators worked hard to provide. “Our principals have worked so hard … to put in place the safest guidelines that we can manage and those guidelines are coming from the CDC which is a scientific organization. With all due respect to the MPA … if we play basketball this winter, we will not be practicing CDC guidelines. There's no way …”
Gorey said, as a father of two sons who each played four years of basketball, it is hard to consider not having a season; but as a teacher, the fears of transmitting and contracting COVID-19 are real. “It's not logical to play basketball this winter when we told football players they couldn't play. The only thing that's changed is that the virus is transmitting more frequently and at a higher percentage. It's not logical to play basketball just because other schools are ... It's not logical to say we're going to follow MPA guidelines which are going to in effect break CDC guidelines. And it's not logical frankly to have our players coming into contact with players from other communities on a regular basis.”
Committee member Ruth Macy amended the motion to approve the winter season with increased personal protective gear standards and protocol such as the use of goggles to minimize risk of contact with droplets; and regular changing of masks every 15 minutes of practice or game play or when a mask is visibly wet or there are frequent substitutions during game play. Member Bruce MacDonald also amended the motion to limit approval to the MPA’s first three levels. The committee will rule on the fourth level, interscholastic competition, on Jan. 11.