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Coronavirus impact

High school competition wrestling canceled for 2020-21

Midcoast schools Medomak Valley, Oceanside, Mount View, Belfast, Camden Hills offer mat sport
By Ken Waltz and Mark Haskell | Feb 26, 2021

Augusta — It is official: there will be no high school wrestling competition for 2020-2021.

The Maine Principals' Association sent a memo on Friday morning, Feb. 26 to member high schools that offer wrestling which stated time had run out on an opportunity to hold a competition mat season.

It was the latest negative COVID-19 news to impact school and youth sports. The pandemic has had a profound affect on schools, education and activities, including sports, for nearly a year.

Wrestling was the latest shoe to drop.

Mike Bisson, the MPA's assistant executive director, said the following memo was sent to high schools:

"It is with deep regret that I inform you of the cancellation of a competitive wrestling season for the 2020-2021 school year. The MPA Wrestling Committee met this morning and reviewed our current status. Prior to the season we developed guidelines that we hoped would allow for a competitive season in the safest possible manner. The committee did this knowing that the Maine DECD Community Sports Guidelines only allowed for 'physically-distanced skills and drills' at Level 2 of the 'high-risk activity. At the time we were hopeful that after the holiday surge of potential COVID-19 cases things would open up and those guidelines might be revisited. We were encouraged when the [National Federation of High Schools] removed their leveling of risk as it pertained to school-based activities. To date there has been no change in the Community Sports Guidelines and we have no indication that they will in the near future. We have waited as long as possible to allow for some type of season and a final decision needed to be made. Coaches may continue to work with their wrestlers in the same capacity until the end of the winter sports season on March 12, 2021."

Wrestling was considered a "high-risk" sport, due to a number of factors, one being prolonged close contact of student-athletes, and, thus, the MPA hoped by pushing the season until later in February it would allow the pandemic conditions to improve enough to allow some level of a competition season to be held.

Unfortunately, the pandemic conditions never improved enough to allow that to happen.

"Even though we probably knew it was coming, it's still hard to hear," said Mount View athletic director Tom Lynch. "I feel really bad that another group of students has lost another sports season. It's time they can't get back. These kids are so resilient though. I know they will bounce back and embrace the spring sports season, God willing, when it begins."

"I'll probably sound like a broken record, but I'm just really sad for the kids," said Camden Hills athletic director Jeff Hart. "As everyone knows, the wrestling culture in this Five Town community is second to none, and we have a lot of kids who are deeply affected by this. My heart goes out to them."

"It is very disappointing that another sport and group of student-athletes have lost their season," said Medomak Valley athletic director Matt Lash. "Although I am sad for the kids and especially the seniors, given the recent news regarding the 2021 football season, I am not surprised by the decision to cancel the season of another 'high-risk' sport. Having chaired the MPA Wrestling Committee years ago and co-chaired [Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference] wrestling for 18 years, I know how hard these kids and coaches work at their sport. It takes a tremendous level of self-discipline and commitment and I am sorry they will not experience that this year. Like everything else we have lost temporarily, we can only hope that it comes back next season. We will certainly have some very eager and deserving kids."

Other high school winter sports such as basketball, ice hockey and swimming were considered "moderate risk" and skiing "low risk." Those student-athletes have been competing interscholastically since January, albeit, wearing masks (when not in the water) and social distancing when possible. Most have played regional, or neighboring-county-based schedules.

The pandemic began in March 2020 right after the conclusion of the high school winter athletic seasons. The wrestling had just finished.

Then the MPA canceled spring sports such as baseball, softball, track and field, lacrosse and tennis. Then in the fall of 2020, schools were allowed to play pandemic-modified and -shortened soccer, golf, cross-country and football (switched from tackle to flag) seasons. Then, this winter, basketball, swimming, skiing and ice hockey have played shortened, regional schedules with wrestling put on hold.

Now the wrestling season has been officially canceled.

High school winter sports traditionally begin in November and run through early March, but preseason practices and competitions for 2020-21 were moved back due to the pandemic.

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

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