AUGUSTA — With the start of the high school winter sports season on the horizon, the Maine Principals’ Association released on Thursday, Nov. 18 renewed proposed guidelines for the 2021-22 winter season.

However, COVID-19 information is fluid and safety guidelines evolve. That continues to be the case for protocols for school athletics.

“Part of the mission of the [Maine Principals’ Association’s Sports Medicine Committee] is to provide guidance to the MPA concerning the health and safety of students participating in interscholastic sports and activities,” said Dr. William Heinz, chairperson of the committee. “Team sports and other group extracurricular activities can increase the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission for students, coaches, referees, and staff, especially during indoor and close-contact team sports.”

Thus, the MPA SMAC will recommended — not require — students and adults involved in these activities be vaccinated against COVID-19; that all nonvaccinated students, coaches, administrators or volunteers participate in regular pool testing/screening for COVID-19; masks for all indoor sports and activities including practice, competition, team/group meetings and in locker rooms; and, when possible, to physically distance by at least one meter.

These recommendations are consistent with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and are subject to change as more knowledge is obtained covering the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The majority of recommendations from last year’s winter (indoor) sports seasons remain intact. Those include having athletes bring their own water bottles, limit handshakes/fist bumps/high-fives, continue the good sportsmanship wave at the conclusion of games and physical distance with pregame conferences.

Additionally, the MPA SMAC and Interscholastic Management Committee originally approved the return of high school wrestling, though it required wrestlers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

However, after feedback from schools on the subject, the committees revised their ruling and wrestlers will be subject to the same guidance as other winter sports athletes in the recommendation wrestlers, officials and coaches be masked.

Additionally, schools utilizing venues outside of their school must follow the restrictions in place by the venue, while the MPA will follow Maine CDC recommendations for MPA-sponsored postseason play.

Area districts/leagues may consider developing guidelines to be followed in relation to spectators/capacity limits, concessions, cheerleaders, weight rooms, locker rooms, participation against schools with different policies, masking during competition, mandatory pooled testing, out-of-state competition, middle level activities or factors that allow athletes and officials to remove masks while competing.

The MPA IMC also has approved an open tournament format for basketball and ice hockey for the 2021-22 season.

Regional tournament games for sports will return this winter. Last year, those sports had regional “pod” tournaments.

In basketball, quarterfinal, semifinal and regional championship games, as well as state finals, will be played at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, Augusta Civic Center, Portland Expo and Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.

Venues for regional and state championship games for ice hockey and wrestling have not been announced.

The winter sports season begins on Monday, Nov. 22.

Courier Publications/VillageSoup sports staff can be reached by email at sports@villagesoup.com. 

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