Impact of Switching Sports Season on Maine Track & Field

Back on June 12, the Bangor Daily News released an article on a proposed switch in high school sports seasons as a way to safely resume sports in the fall. Essentially, they would switch sports the Maine Principals Association considers "low risk" to the fall and "high risk" in the spring. David Utterback, the athletic director at Brewer High School, submitted the proposal "to help make it easier for athletes to compete during the fall season if students have returned to the classroom in some capacity."

From a scheduling perspective, cross country and indoor track wouldn't be impacted. The Maine Principals Association identifies cross-country as a low-risk sport, so the sport would remain in the same Fall window.

However, under the new proposal, things would get murky during the springtime. The plan proposes a somewhat staggered start to the spring season, with outdoor track starting slightly earlier (the regular end of March spring season start), and football and soccer -- which are identified as sports with the highest risks -- would start later during the season (around April vacation timeframe).

Let it be clear that safety for student-athletes is the top priority. But it should be known that pushing football and soccer to the spring conflicts with multisport athletes who participate in outdoor track. Based on the proposal from Utterback, the final four to five weeks on the outdoor track season would be impacted with three sports (Outdoor track, soccer, and football running concurrently, not to mention lacrosse which doesn't affect track but certainly would soccer and football .

According to last year's NFHS High School Athletics survey, football and outdoor track and field had the highest participants nationwide for boys. Outdoor track had the highest participants nationwide for girls, and soccer was fourth on the list (which is obviously why these sports would be pushed to the spring). But there is often much carryover between track and field, football and soccer.

Case in point, Scarborough's Jarett Flaker was a Fitzpatrick Award finalist last fall and leaves high school as one of the best track sprinters in Maine history. His success on the track earned him a scholarship to George Mason, but he was also the best player on a football team that was a game away from reaching the Class A state championship game. In this hypothetical proposal, is it realistic to play both sports?

Maybe, but the risk of injury and an athlete being worn down skyrockets. The first football games would start in early May and end in the first week of July, and track would start at the end of March, and state championship meets would be in early June. So there's still a possibility of the schedules conflicting if an athlete chooses to play both. In that case, is it feasible to play a football game Friday night, and then compete at a track meet the next day?

The same question is asked for a soccer player who also competes in middle and long-distance events in track. Now, Ben Decker of Yarmouth was actually able to pull this off when he competed in cross country and also played soccer back in 2013. In one weekend, he helped his soccer team win a big game over Cape Elizabeth on a Friday night, and then traveled to New Hampshire the following morning and placed fourth in the Small Schools race at the Manchester Invitational running 16:07 for 5k.

Decker was able to handle to rigors of balancing two extreme cardiovascular sports during the same season -- he went on to finish sixth at the Class B cross country championships that season. But to say that would be sustainable for everyone would be a stretch.

With student-athletes well-being and health being the top concern, having a way to monitor athletes' workloads would be essential if they were to do multi-sports at the same time. Currently, it is up to the individual school on whether or not they allow an athlete to do more than one sport at a time. 

The proposal is certainly an interesting hypothetical, and it addresses what's most important: keeping the athletes as safe as possible during the coronavirus pandemic. But the staggering of seasons in the spring would likely decrease the number of multisport athletes, and possibly participation levels in athletics, which took a nationwide decline in 2019.

The impact on those smaller schools (Class C) might be the greatest as many of them depend on the soccer or football athletes to compete in the spring on the track team with lesser athletes to choose from multi-sport athletes are more prevalent. Typically the sprinters, hurdlers, jumpers, and throwers on a team either do soccer or football.  A quick look at the athletes that scored in the Class A boys 2019 outdoor state meet in the hurdles, sprints, jumps, and throws finds that 81% did either soccer or football. A deeper dive into the 2019 Class C girls state meet scorers in the sprints, jumps, & hurdles show 74.1% of athletes competed in soccer.

According to the MPA Utterbeck's proposal was just that, a proposal, they plan to move ahead with the traditional sports season in the fall with preseason starting on August 17th, but as these uncertain times have shown will that actually happen?