COVID-19 high school football cancellations create headaches for policymakers
It was back to the phone for Jeff Hart on Tuesday morning.
For the second week in a row, the athletic administrator at Camden Hills Regional High School was trying to find a new opponent for the Windjammers football team.
First, Ellsworth-Sumner had to withdraw from last Friday’s game against Camden Hills due to COVID-19 cases. Then came the word Monday that RSU 29 in the Houlton area had switched to distance learning and the Houlton-Hodgdon football team are reportedly not traveling to Rockport for the undefeated 8-man reunion scheduled for Saturday.
“The football team was starting to watch the movie from the last game and also had a Houlton movie,” Hart said. “But then I had to call [football coach] Chris [Christie] last night and say, ‘You might want to put this Houlton movie on hold.’ “
Ongoing COVID-19 cases – along with a lack of bus drivers, a lack of game officials, and the occasional wet weather – have left the state’s athletic administrators constantly juggling high school sports schedules .
While soccer, field hockey, cross country, and golf competitions can be rescheduled relatively easily as long as COVID-19 does not completely shut down a team, the physical nature of football requires a longer and more limited recovery period. generally the matches in this sport to one per week.
With few to no weeks open on most football calendars, the challenge for athletic administrators like Hart when games are called off is finding another team to play the same weekend to fill the regular season schedule. .
When Hart received the call last Thursday that Ellsworth-Sumner would not be available to play on Friday, the indirect effect of COVID-19 was immediately felt in the Camden Hills locker room.
“It made it real again, and that reality is that the season could end anytime,” Christie said. “It was a tough dose of reality, but I can’t give Jeff enough credit for just grinding and grinding and grinding until he finally finds us a game.”
It was not easy. Hart scoured the schedules for the state’s 8-player soccer teams and sent a mass email to athletic directors looking for a playing partner on short notice.
A potential opponent who had scheduled time off last weekend declined because some of his players had already made plans for their weekend. Another possible enemy declined due to a perceived lack of preparation time for early recovery.
Hart eventually got a call from Bath’s Morse High School athletic administrator Nate Priest on Friday afternoon, proposing his shipbuilders as an opponent the following evening.
“It was a roller coaster for 48 hours, going from the excitement of going and playing Ellsworth to all of a sudden not having that opportunity,” said Christie. “When Morse said he was interested in playing us, Jeff said, ‘do you want it? I said, ‘Look, our season could end tomorrow so I want the kids to play football. I don’t want to look in the face of another group of old people and tell them they can’t play, so yeah, we’ll take this game.
Morse, who during the preseason was considered one of the top teams in the big schools 8-player football division for schools with 355 or more students, took a 24-19 lead at halftime on his land in Bath before Camden Hills. rallied behind senior running back Hunter Norton for a 60-42 win to improve his record to 2-0.
Norton rushed for 280 yards and six touchdowns on 14 carries, and the Windjammers outscored the Shipbuilders 41-18 in the second half.
The first of what is now expected to be two Camden Hills-Morse football battles this season – their originally scheduled reunion in Rockport is scheduled for October 8 as part of the Windjammers’ comeback weekend – was not the first game Maine High School football game reconfigured this year.
It happened in Week 1, when Millinocket-area Stearns-Schenck and Mount Desert Island met in an 8-player small-school season opener in Bar Harbor. Stearns-Schenck’s original opponent, Mount View of Thorndike, had to cancel due to COVID-19 cases and MDI’s match with the Washington Academy of East Machias was called off after WA withdrew from the 2021 season due to a lack of players.
But as the COVID-19 delta variant continues to spread among the school-aged population, Hart considers more revised football games inevitable in an effort to preserve the season.
“I’ve never coached football but I know how much coaches depend on watching movies,” said Hart, the former boys’ basketball coach at Camden Hills who guided the Windjammers to 503 wins and six state championships before becoming the school’s athletic administrator in 2019.
“I just think we have to understand that these are not normal times and that we have to do everything possible to play every chance we have because every game could be our last.”