Maine coronavirus guidelines create tensions between school and community basketball groups

Even the most iconic of Maine’s winter experiences – high school basketball – cannot escape the scourge of COVID-19.

The impact of state guidelines for school and community athletics, created to help limit the spread of the coronavirus, has called into question the relationship between school sports leaders and independent basketball clubs.

These guidelines were initially offered as recommendations, but as cases of COVID-19 continued to increase, state agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services began to take a more stringent stance on the matter. application because they have aligned the guidelines for school and community sports. .

Maine Hoops, the state’s largest community basketball program, received a letter from DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew last Thursday. She said her plans to hold events starting the weekend of December 18 were not allowed.

This came after the directive for the start of Level 4 in-person competition between teams from the same geographic area, in moderate-risk sports such as basketball, was pushed back to at least January 11, 2021.

“We ask that you change your schedule as soon as possible,” Lambrew wrote.

Maine Hoops owner Lenny Holmes believes his program meets state guidelines. He says the games on offer are really scrimmages as the participants are all members of the same organization.

Intra-team scrums under Level 3 of Maine’s community sports guidelines were going to be allowed from December 14 until last Friday, when the start date was postponed to January 4, 2021.

“I think the biggest mistake is that I used puns instead of scrums, but I don’t know what the difference is – there are no fans, everything is limited,” said Holmes. , which is awaiting a response to a follow-up letter. he wrote to DHHS. “But anyway, I submitted this as my plan for the future in September.”

He pointed out that the Maine Hoops-sponsored game all fell without state pushback, so his plan was to go back to Level 3 guidelines and start over with small cohorts playing scrums.

Players who register with Maine Hoops are divided into cohorts of no more than 40 players. They are often grouped together with members of another team they play on, such as school teammates.

“There is no cross contamination,” Holmes said.

Holmes said his situation was brought to Lambrew’s attention through a letter written by Peter Murray, president of the Maine Association of Basketball Coaches (MABC). The organization includes high school and college coaches.

“For me, this is the worst possible COVID situation,” Murray wrote, referring to a three-week cohort for high school players originally slated for December 18-20.

Murray, the boys ‘varsity basketball coach at Dexter Regional High School, admitted that neither the MABC nor the Maine Principals’ Association, which endorses interschool sports, are linked to the organizers of the planned event. Their athletes are affected.

“High school players will train with their team all week, then compete on weekends with a variety of opponents, then go straight back to their high school gyms and teammates,” Murray wrote.

He said many MABC members were frustrated last summer that they were not allowed to run off-season basketball programs at their schools, even though clubs had summer activities.

“Most of the high school coaches I spoke to would shrug their shoulders and say, ‘I don’t know how this could happen’, that they are able to do it when we can’t go to high school gyms. , ”Murray said in a later interview. “It kind of caught everyone off guard and then when we got into the fall we started asking about it and found out that in reality they shouldn’t have been doing all of this. . “

He suggested that youth basketball groups had performed “self-enforcement” in terms of interpreting state guidelines.

The application of community sports guidelines started to change in early October. The Maine Amateur Hockey Association has come under close scrutiny after a referee who played eight games in southern Maine and New Hampshire over the weekend tested positive for COVID-19, potentially exhibiting up to 400 players, coaches and official colleagues.

The hockey league ceased playing until community sports guidelines were revised on November 6.

“This revised checklist also aligns the timing of practice and competition for [community] the sports are the same as those in school winter sports like ice hockey and basketball, ”Lambrew said at the time.

Fritz Marseille has also run summer and fall basketball programs with his Black Bear North club based in eastern and central Maine. He planned to start a winter program on December 18 based on the old start date of December 14 for the scrum.

“I thought Lenny was really on point when he spelled out the rules and how they were written because when I read the guidelines they were written very similar to what happened at the fall and then we did everything to follow the guidelines, ”said Marseille. “The only thing they added was that players had to wear masks, so, okay, if that’s the guidelines, that’s what we’re going to have to follow.”

Murray, who previously coached AAU basketball and many of his players participate in club programs, recognized a certain tension between the worlds of youth basketball in school and community settings.

“We should be working in partnership with each other, but that’s not necessarily the case in Maine,” he said. “It’s a very confrontational relationship right now, but at the end of the day we all try to give children opportunities to develop as people. “

Marseille, a former University of Maine basketball player and former athletic administrator at Hermon High School, sees the relationship between school basketball and clubs as complementary rather than competitive.

“School sports are school sports, and we cannot compete with that,” Marseille said. “When you put on this trophy, this golden ball, you give the towns, the schools and the children something to rally around. People love it.

“I have a lot of better players who play for [Black Bear North], and when their school teams play, I push them to play with their school teams. If they can do both, do both, but I want them to play for their school team.

Despite their differences, these entities are now subject to the same standards in terms of the application of the State’s community sports guidelines.