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Sports return to Gorham schools

By Nathan Tsukroff

A recent decision by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, coupled with a change to “green” designation for Cumberland County schools, has allowed Gorham High School to restart its winter sports programs.

Cumberland County had been designated green from the start of the pandemic, then was designated “yellow” by the Maine DHHS in December as infection rates increased above state averages across the county.

Gorham High School senior Lauren Fotter throws a pass around fellow teammate Anna Nelson, a junior, during a recent girls varsity basketball team practice at the school. Gorham began play this week in a delayed winter sports season. (Tsukroff photo)

Under DHHS guidelines, sports activities and other extra curricular activities in schools throughout Cumberland County were immediately suspended, in order to keep students and parents safe.

In mid-January, the Maine DHHS changed its determination for school sports after reviewing and determining that infection rates were substantially lower in schools across the state. The rate of new cases at the time was determined to be 27 per 10,000 school staff and students, compared to 113 per 10,000 people statewide.

The DHHS basically put decisions about sports back in the hands of the Maine Principals Association, which then gave schools approval to local decisions to restart sports and other after-school activities. Schools were advised not to allow competition with schools in other counties, however.

Sophia Michaud, a junior on the Gorham High School girls varsity basketball team, takes a shot from the foul line during a recent team practice. Winter sports games for schools in Cumberland County were suspended in December under Maine DHHS guidelines, and were just recently allowed to resume. (Tsukroff photo)

In late-January, the Maine DHHS returned Cumberland County to a green designation, although Androscoggin, York, and Oxford counties remain yellow.

Gorham High School varsity girls basketball coach Laughn Berthiaume said that Cumberland County schools had already made a decision to return to in-person winter sports, based on the change in MPA guidelines. The team began in-person practices on Jan. 25, and begins a five-week, 10-game schedule this week against other Cumberland County schools.

Players on all teams wear masks during both practice and games, and remain socially-distanced when possible.

Berthiaume said fans are not being allowed at games. Only players, coaches and referees up to the maximum of 50 people will be allowed in the gym at one time, under Maine DHHS guidelines. “Under 50 is both teams, game personnel, score clock operators,” he said.

While athletics were suspended, players practiced remotely, Berthiaume said. “We had a number of Zoom meetings. I had some former team members, currently playing in college, that got on with my team and were talking about their experience, and what they were doing to stay safe and practice at the same time.”

Berthiaume and his fellow coaches would “connect with the team virtually to talk about things. We had some videos we sent out about the things we’d like to do, and we had some workouts that we sent them that they could also do on their own.”

Leah Woodbury, a Gorham High School junior on the girls varsity basketball team, heads toward the basket during a recent practice session at the high school. Players are masked during both practices and games. (Tsukroff photo)

With the limitations on social-gathering under DHHS guidelines, the varsity and junior varsity teams will not be traveling together to games as they have in the past. Instead, the JV team will ride in a separate bus, playing its game and exiting the gym before the varsity girls take the court. The same process will be used for the boys teams.

The boys and girls teams traditionally play at opposite schools on the same day. And in an attempt to limit contact as much as possible, schools will play both seasonal games the same week,Berthiaume said.

Although parents and fans aren’t allowed to watch in person, “everybody is live streaming their games,” he said. “In reality, the family members that are far away that wouldn’t normally be able to see the games can actually watch them live, so that’s kinda cool!” And parents with children on both the boys and girls teams can now watch both games at the same time.

Gorham games will be streamed on nfhsnetwork.com, as part of the MPA’s collaboration with the National Federation of State High School Associations. Previous games should be available for on-demand viewing.

The Gorham girls volleyball team that normally plays in the fall will start its season on Feb. 22, overlapping the basketball season a little. Berthiaume said coaches are working together to have separate practice times, so students who play both sports can attend practices. Volleyball games are expected to take place after the basketball season ends on Mar. 11, and games are expected to be live streamed, as well.

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