ROCKPORT — Camden Hills Regional High School, in Rockport, became the first, and so far only, high school in the state to opt out of the upcoming fall sports season Aug. 21 in favor of participating in practices and modified intra-squad games this fall.
Many stakeholders for the athletic teams at Camden Hills Regional High School, however, are objecting to the administration’s decision. They are hoping they can convince the school administration to change its mind in a matter of days.
The fall sports season is mostly set to kick off Sept. 8. Fall sports has been approved by the governing body for high school athletics and a final approval will come from the the Mills administration.
Fall sports at Camden Hills includes mountain biking, golf, football, cross country, field hockey and soccer.
An Aug. 21 joint letter from Five Town CSD Superintendent Maria Libby, CHRHS Principal Shawn Carlson and CHRHS Athletic Director Jeff Hart said the administration reached a point where it could no longer wait for a decision from state officials.
“We feel the path forward is very clear and apparent,” the letter stated. “We have come to the disappointing conclusion that there is no way to adequately minimize the risks of mixing our student population with other school populations in thinking about league competition.”
The letter said the top priority for the Camden Hills community must be taking actions to “maintain the health of our student community in order to keep our buildings open for in-person learning for as long as possible.”
“I want everyone to know that the decision was made by people who care deeply about this community and the students and their families who are impacted by this the most,” Hart said in a separate letter, while also noting it is OK to mourn the loss of fall sports for now while he works to develop a modified and nontraditional fall sports season.
But backers of the petition, which circulated this week, said that decision to opt out of interscholastic competition in favor of practices and modified games ahead of the MPA’s decision, “has been discussed as premature and without substantial community dialogue (student, parent, alumni and taxpayer input),” reads a petition.
“We, the taxpaying citizens of the Five Towns School district with student athletes that have endured pain and anguish through various social limitations due to valid public health concerns, seek a reversal of course to allow these kids to partake in the sport of their choice following the recommended health guidelines that have been determined to make it safe and healthy for our youth to have the deserved opportunity to compete at the highest level they seek in representation of their school, community, and family,” the petition said.
As of publishing time early Friday evening, the petition, addressed to Libby and the school administration, has received nearly 400 signatures, and organizers of the effort have requested the topic be discussed by the Five Town CSD school board at the board’s Sept. 2 meeting.
By Monday evening, the petition had grown to more than 650 supporters.
Supporters of the petition echoed the school’s decision as premature, while others noted sports helps students with personal issues, mental health, and academics.
One supporter, who noted they are a high school student, detailed student-athletes use sports as a motivating factor for academics and noted athletes on fall sports teams should be afforded the opportunity to compete for a playoff spot and perhaps even win a state championship.
The school’s varsity girls soccer team, for instance, has won the past four state championships.
Another supporter of the petition noted the decision by Camden Hills could hurt athletes at other schools who were counting on a game against Camden Hills this fall.
Several supporters noted they are in favor of players taking the field, including their own children, amid COVID-19 and noted a state committee that included medical professionals approved of a fall sports season.
The sports medicine committee and interscholastic management committee for the Maine Principals’ Association, the governing body for high school athletics in the state, convened Aug. 26 and Aug. 27, respectively, and voted unanimously for fall sports to be played with some revised guidelines to adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols.
Members of the Sports Medicine Committee include Molly Bishop of Oceanside High School, Tim Smith of Foxcroft Academy, Reg Ruhlin of Orono High School, Gordie Salls of Sanford High School and John Keane of Piscataquis Community Secondary. Liaisons include Chris Sementelli of Maine General Sports Medicine, Chris Lutrzykowski of Maine General Medicine Center, Dr. William Heinz of Sports Medicine Center, John Ryan of South Portland School District, Emily Poland of Maine Department of Education and Dan O'Connell of John Bapst Memorial High School.
Members of the Interscholastic Management Committee include Steve Bell of Dexter Regional High School, Don Gray of Greely High School, Jon Porter of Southern Aroostook High School, Paul Theriault of Shead High School, Jeremie Sirois of Kennebunk High School, Bill Tracy of Hampden Academy, Travis Barnes of Caribou Community School, Scott Gordon of Old Town High School and Rick Amero of Monmouth Academy. Liaisons include Kevin Jordan of MSAA, Bunky Dow of the Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association and Gerry Durgin of Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.
Though the MPA and two of its committees have backed a fall sports season, the Mills administration will review the guidelines before the decision to play fall sports is considered to be fully approved and be able to provide any input they wish to provide.
Leaders of the Maine Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, and Maine CDC have previously said its agencies would leave decisions regarding whether the fall sports season should be played in the hands of the MPA. The Office of Governor Janet Mills has deflected on its stance, referring inquiries on the subject of fall sports to the aforementioned government agencies.
On top of a review of guidelines by the Mills administration, MPA leaders say each school district reserves the right, as far as the MPA is concerned, to make their own decisions and can withdraw all or some of their athletic teams from participating in interscholastic contests this fall.
Teams, such as Camden Hills, opting out of the fall sports season will not be penalized for the decision by the MPA.
Schools will not be penalized if they cannot, or do not, field a team in a sport they normally would. The rule mandating teams dropping a sport remain out of competition for two seasons is being waived by the MPA.