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Gorham winter sports suspended

While Cumberland County is designated ‘yellow’

By Nathan Tsukroff

GORHAM – Wait and see.

That’s all that high school sports teams like the girls varsity basketball team at Gorham High School can do, now that Cumberland County has been designated “yellow” due to increased COVID-19 infections.

The State of Maine moved Cumberland County from green to yellow a couple of weeks ago, as infections increased in the area following family gatherings over Thanksgiving.

That decision was due to be revisited today, with the hopes that the county could return to green and allow winter sports at local schools to resume.

For now, in-person practices have been suspended as all after-school activities were cancelled at school districts throughout the county.

Coach Laughn Berthiaume stands in an empty basketball court at Gorham High School after girls basketball and other winter sports were suspended when Cumberland County was designated ‘yellow’ under COVID-19 guidelines two weeks ago by the State of Maine. The girls plan for a 12-game season starting in mid-January, if allowed. (Kiely Callahan photo)

The team had been set for practice after school when word came that all sports would be suspended, girls basketball head coach Laughn Berthiaume said. “We had to definitely kind of change on the fly!”

 “There’s no in-person activity. When a county’s designated yellow, you can do things virtually, but we can’t do any in-person thing,” he said. “So I can’t get them in the gym. I can connect with them on Zoom, I can send some things to them (via email), set up some team things that I can do remotely.”

 Even under the green designation a couple of weeks ago, Maine’s COVID-19 guidelines meant teams at Gorham High School could only “hold skills and drills. But at that point we couldn’t even have live defense. We couldn’t compete against each other, but we could be in the same area and work on skills and drills together,” Berthiaume said.

 Players are required to wear masks at all times during the winter, even on the basketball court, since they are indoors. In the fall season, “When kids got out on the field, they could take their mask off. It’s no longer like that,” he said. “So if we can get back to playing, they have to have their masks on the whole time.”

 If Cumberland County returns to a green designation, competition will be allowed between schools, although with a modified schedule. “Right now, the plan is to have a 12-game schedule. The schedule is a little different in terms of who you’re playing, because we’re trying to stay regional,” Berthiaume said. “And so you’re playing the schools closer to you. In southern Maine, it doesn’t really change who you play that much, but it does in some other areas.”

Berthiaume said the changes in the schedules for Maine schools this year under pandemic guidelines mean that a school such as Bangor High School may not travel as far for games. “Bangor might be playing some of the smaller schools around them, instead of traveling down to southern Maine to compete against schools of the same size.”

There are currently 16 teams in Class AA, including Gorham, Oxford Hills, Portland, South Portland, Bangor, Scarborough, Windham, Cheverus (Portland), Noble (North Berwick), Massabesic, Sanford, Lewiston, Bonny Eagle (Standish), Edward Little (Auburn), Deering (Portland), and Thornton Academy (Saco).

Gorham was one of the top three schools in the Class A and Class AA over the pasts 10 years, he said. The school joined Class AA for the 2015-16 season.

“We’ve been in three of the five state championships and won two of them,” Berthiaume said. Oxford Hills High School has won the last two championships, “but it’s been an extremely competitive league.”

Games are scheduled from Jan. 15 to Feb. 12 this season.

 Berthiaume said his players were able to get into the gym for practices several times before the yellow designation. “They were very excited to be in there, enjoying each other’s company and enjoying playing again.”

“I think being in the gym a few times and then having it taken away,” has been tough on the players, he said. “The goal for me as the coach and for our program is to try to keep the kids connected and to try to do a few things with them to let them know that, hey, we’re not just dropping” the season.

Gorham will be restart its winter sports programs “as soon as we’re allowed to,” Berthiaume said.

Over the Christmas and New Years break, Berthiaume said his primary goal was to make sure the players “are all right, and that their spirits are okay. I think that’s first and foremost.” He planned to connect with his players during the holiday break to “make sure everything’s fine.”

If the season suspension continues as classes resume, Berthiaume plans to conduct Zoom meetings and email items to players for them to practice and workout at home. While they can’t actually use the ball, he will have them work on game strategy and personal skills.

 This is the fourteenth season for Berthiaume as head coach at Gorham, after two years as an assistant coach.

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