The start of the fall high school athletic season in Maine has been pushed back a week to Sept. 14, amid concerns of return to play guidelines, the Maine Principals' Association announced Wednesday.
In a joint statement with superintendents and Gov. Janet Mills, the MPA agreed with the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Education that it would be best to extend the delay of fall sports to "allow schools to get their academic programs underway" while further adjustments and guidance is made.
In the statement, Mills said she wants to see fall sports come back this year in a way that protects student health, adding that she wants her commissioners to work with school leaders as a team to address concerns about health guidance quickly.
The ongoing debate over school sports in the state is causing confusion and uncertainty for coaches and students.
On Aug. 27, the MPA, which took on the role of determining best practices for fall sports, voted to approve a set of safety guidelines allowing sports to be played.
But when officials at Maine’s Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services reviewed what was outlined, they found regulations on spectator distancing and face coverings were inadequate and the time initially given for their review was minimal.
"In a time of COVID-19, which is a highly contagious disease, we need to be extra careful," said Jeanne Lambrew, the commissioner of Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday during a media briefing in which she was asked about a letter sent from Maine DOE and DHHS to the MPA about their findings.
While acknowledging that state officials could not necessarily halt local school sports, Lambrew explained that officials wanted to examine each activity proposed to identify "risks" to schools and surrounding communities.
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As that debate goes on, the uncertainty and confusion about what will be allowed and when is frustrating at least some players and their coaches.
"No one knows what's going on and we've got some smart people," said Aaron Filieo, the head coach of South Portland's football program. "To try to communicate that to our players and our families has been even more difficult because they look to us."
In a Wednesday interview, Filieo told NECN and NBC10 Boston that he hoped for an efficient an substantive discussion at a high level between state and academic leaders so a final decision could be reached.
"I think there's a balance that we can strike," Filieo explained, adding that in his program he and others were willing to consider mask-wearing during play or eliminating huddles in order to facilitate safe play.
"We're willing to do anything to play," said Connor Dobson, a high school senior in the South Portland football program. "When the adults don't have the answers, that's when kids stress levels go up even more for kids like myself."
For its part, the MPA said it's hoping to work with the state to find a solution.
"We appreciate their willingness to review our guidelines and look forward to working with the state agencies to revise the guidelines," said Michael Burnham, the executive director of the association's interscholastic division.
"Certainly, we'll go back and look at their revisions as well," Burnham added.