Inside Augusta

Governor Mills moves the goalposts on high school sports

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After telling the public that the Maine Principals’ Association (MPA) would have the final say in returning to high school sports this fall, the Mills administration sent a letter to the association Tuesday raising concerns about its recent recommendation to allow all sports to resume.

The state wants the MPA to further delay the start of the high school sports season and reconsider recommendations it made allowing certain “higher risk” sports to be played this year.

The four-page letter sent to the MPA was written for the purpose of describing “areas where MPA Guidance does not comport with underlying public health policy related to COVID-19 and to highlight recommendations from other guidance documents that we urge the MPA to adopt.”

The letter raises concerns about the MPA’s guidelines related to the physical distancing of spectators, the use of face coverings by students, coaches, officials and others on and off the field of play, and notification and quarantine procedures for student athletes who come in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

The Mills administration’s letter also takes issue with the MPA Guidance being “silent on the interaction” with school reopening plans and the Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services’ school reopening plans.

The most notable concern raised in the document relates to the failure of the MPA’s Guidance to comport with the “Community Sports Guidance” previously issued by the state. According to the letter:

“Under the MPA Guidance, student athletes in even the highest risk sports can compete as they did preCOVID, including within-team competition, between local teams, between teams statewide regardless of the color classification of counties in the School Health Advisory System, and between teams from out of state including states that are not exempt from Maine’s requirement for quarantine or testing. The Community Sports Guidance document does not permit competitions outside of scrimmages within the team for high-risk sports. The combination of travel and close contact in certain sports increases the risk of accelerating coronavirus spread. This is why colleges and universities in New England have largely cancelled intercollegiate athletic competition this fall.”

Without outright cancelling certain sports, the Mills administration makes clear that competition between teams in “high-risk” sports is not permitted under the Community Sports Guidelines, to which the MPA’s Guidance does not adhere.

Along with its letter, the Mills administration updated the Community Sports Guidance, effective September 1 (the same day it sent the letter to the MPA), reclassifying sports based on the state’s perceived risk in each activity and establishing the levels of play permitted.

The levels of play include:

  1. Performing skill and conditioning drills at home alone or with household members.
  2. Team-based practiced with physically distanced group activities.
  3. Within-team competition (scrimmages).
  4. Competition between teams from the same geographic area.
  5. Competition between teams from different geographic areas within Maine.
  6. Competition between teams from different states.

Sports categorized as lower risk include tennis, golf, disc golf, and many track and field events. Moderate risk activities include baseball, softball, swimming, soccer, basketball and lacrosse. Higher risk sports include football, wrestling, rugby and boxing.

Low risk sports can be played through levels 1-5; moderate risk sports through levels 1-3 (and level 4 if the sport is played outdoors); and higher risk sports can only be played between levels 1-3.

This means that teams or student athletes participating in “higher risk” or “moderate risk” sports that cannot be played outside, cannot compete against athletes from other schools this fall.

The Mills administration’s actions sharply contrast with what Gov. Chris Sununu is doing next door in New Hampshire. Gov. Sununu’s administration approved the return of school athletics on July 3 and the state’s interscholastic athletic association already developed rules and approved its plan to begin competition in most sports by September 18, as well as football on September 25.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at Maine Policy Institute and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at Maine Policy. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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