In mid-November, the Maine Principals' Association, which governs member high schools varsity athletics, set forth basic school sports guidance for the return to competition in the winter.

The recent surges in coronavirus spikes not withstanding, the MPA plans to release specific individual sport bulletins, which will include sport specific guidelines, in the future, most likely the week of Nov. 30-Dec. 4.

As with fall sports, specific sports are categorized as "low," "medium," or "high" risk and assigned corresponding levels of play. The six levels of play are assigned based on the activity level’s own risk (ranging from skill building to competition), protocols to allow activity to happen safely, and circumstances with COVID-19 in Maine.

The winter sports start dates for these levels are:

Monday, Dec. 7 — Level 1: Skills and drills sessions at home, alone or with household members.

Monday, Dec. 14 — Level 2-3: Practices and competitions (e.g. intrasquad scrimmages) within teams.

Monday, Jan. 11 — Level 4: Competition among teams from the same geographic area.

The start dates of Dec. 7 and Jan. 11 allow for time to pass after holidays when people may travel or attend gatherings that increase the risk of COVID-19 spread. Start dates for Levels 5 and 6 of competition will be determined in January.

The Jan. 11 start date for Level 4 competition also will be reviewed in early January based on the status of the public health situation at that time.

Of course, each school district will decide if it will allow its high school to participate in any or all of the MPA's allowable activities.

The following information is provided on the MPA's website:

The School Sports Guidance: Return to Competition for Competitive Activities in Maine for winter sports has been approved by the MPA Interscholastic Management Committee. The Office of the Governor, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Education, Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association and Maine School Management Association worked with the MPA to align these guidelines.

Click on the link below more complete information.

The MPA notes guidelines are designed to allow for a safe return to play, but they remain a work in progress and may be modified as circumstances with the virus change.

A few points of clarification:

• Participants in school sports — all athletes, coaches, officials, staff — must wear face coverings during practices and competition, in line with Gov. Janet Mills’ latest executive order.

• Spectators are not allowed at indoor competitions given the challenges of adhering to indoor gathering limits. Schools must continue to follow the governor’s executive order on gathering size limits, currently set at 100 people outdoor, or fewer if distancing rules cannot be accommodated.

• The decision to sponsor a school activity is made at the local level. The MPA does not require approval from a school's local governing board.

• As with fall sports, winter coaches, paid and volunteer, must complete the free COVID-19 course called C0VID-19 for Coaches and Administrators available on the NFHS Learn platform at https://nfhslearn.com/. It is recommended athletes and officials also watch the video.

• Should a county be designated "yellow" or "red," there should be no practices or games held until which time it is designated "green."

• Schools must continue to follow the governor’s executive order on gathering size limits, currently set at 100 people outdoors, or fewer if distancing rules cannot be accommodated.

• Schools must follow the Maine Center for Disease and Control and Prevention recommendations for reporting when a person involved in school sports is confirmed positive for COVID-19 or a close contact of such a person (see the Standard Operating Procedure for Investigation of COVID-19 in Pre-K-12 Schools in Maine that is posted on the Department of Education website).

• Each winter sport committee has developed “Sport Specific Guidelines” that align with the “School Sports Guidance: Return to Competition for Competitive Activities in Maine” document that was recently approved for winter sports and activities. These guidelines may be found in the appendices at the end of the Return to Competition document.

• Each winter activity will have a revised bulletin that addresses the winter season. These may be found on the MPA website in the future.

• Along with the “School Sports Guidance: Return to Competition for Competitive Activities in Maine” each school must follow local rules and policies as they apply to the use of facilities, including locker rooms, transportation, operational considerations, cleaning and disinfecting, and the use of shared objects.

• Volleyball and westling will look at a modified season that will take place in the late winter/early spring.

• Unified basketball will take place during the winter sport season.

Courier Publications' sports staff can be reached by email at sports@villagesoup.com or by phone at 594-4401.