‘We knew what needed to be done and we had the courage to just come out and say it’

This is why, and how, Camden Hills Regional High School decided not to participate in traditional fall sports

Thu, 09/03/2020 - 10:15am

    ROCKPORT — During a Sept. 2 school board meeting, Five Town CSD Superintendent Maria Libby and Camden Hills Regional High School Principal Shawn Carlson pulled back the curtain on the decision to scrap the traditional fall sports season for the Windjammers late last month. 

    An Aug. 21 joint letter from Libby, 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. 

    During a public comment period Wednesday night, Libby broke from the comment period’s normal procedures. Normally, school board members and the superintendent simply listen to comments made by the general public and do not respond with rebuttals or answer posed questions. Those procedures were noted repeatedly during Wednesday night’s meeting ahead of the public comment period. 

    After one public comment, however, Libby dived into pieces of how the decision to cancel the traditional fall sports season was made by herself, Carlson and Hart. 

    Libby the administrative team debated whether lower-risk sports, such as golf and mountain biking, at Camden Hills be allowed to participate in a traditional fall sports season while the higher-risk sports would be sidelined. 

    “We decided that at that time — although I think our thinking on this has changed — but at the time we made the decision we felt it would be difficult for our community to understand why we weren’t treating all sports the same, so we just treated all sports the same,” she said. 

    Throughout the meeting, Libby repeatedly cited a piece of CDC guidance that athletes should remain six feet apart from each other, and that most sports cannot maintain six feet apart from one another. 

    In fact, Libby said she and her team are confident the rest of the state’s high school athletic programs will ultimately make the same determination. 

    “We believe that is the conclusion the entire State of Maine is going to come to,” she said. “And we also believe most people have known that for months. We also believe we’re one of the few schools willing to come out and say that.” 

    Libby noted the administrative team felt it was inappropriate to continue leaving athletes in the dark about whether fall sports would be played, and placed blame on state athletic officials for doing just that. 

    “We came to a point where we felt it’s not fair to our students and parents to keep dragging them along and kicking the can down the road with a decision which is what the state was doing — we expected a decision from the State much sooner than it eventually came — we have people who are closely connected to the Maine Principals’ Association on our staff who was aware what was happening at the MPA and the can was just being kicked down the road.” 

    Ultimately, the administrative team knew a decision needed to be made by someone and decided they would be the trendsetters. 

    “We knew what needed to be done and we had the courage to just come out and say it because we didn't want to keep dragging people along,” Libby stated. “We were kind of tired of waiting for MPA to come out with something and just decided that it was time for somebody to lead and we chose to be those people.” 

    Shortly thereafter, Carlson spoke on the topic and shared some insight of his own and started by acknowledging points raised by the general public on poor communication by the administrative team on how they reached their decision was accurate. 

    “I do agree that we are here because our — and this is a function of — we didn’t communicate well,” he said. 

    Carlson shared he previously sat on the MPA executive board until he recently resigned. 

    “I know and did know what they were going to suggest – and I resigned because I knew they were not meeting the state’s guidelines, which I have to meet legally [as a principal],” he said. “I can’t just take the MPA’s guidelines and run with those. And so I was frustrated that they refused to step up, make the right decisions about what the State was asking us to do and what we thought we could pull off for kids.” 

    Carlson then addressed the timing of the decision regarding Camden Hills making the decision ahead of the MPA deciding on whether fall sports should be played.

    “If we went sooner or faster than we should have, I apologize,” he said. “But I’ll be honest, I think we were right.” 

    Before yielding back to the board, Carlson noted the MPA was recently admonished by the Mills administration for not meeting guidelines set by the Mills administration to safely play sports. 

    Libby, in conclusion, acknowledged she and her team knew they would receive backlash for the decision, but noted other districts likely agree with her team’s decision but do not want to deal with the backlash from their respective communities.

    She noted once they decided it was not in the best interests of the community and school to play a traditional sports season that it was imperative to make that decision public and not withhold that information any longer.