High School Basketball Official Shortages a Real Problem

There are many reasons, but the biggest of which

nobody wants to talk about…

     In Aroostook County, high school basketball is a rich tradition. With the exception of last year’s COVID season, people pack our tiny gyms to support the student athletes’ passion for the game. The one primary element that allows the games to go on are the unsung “third team” that everyone loves to hate: the referees. They are the law, the over-bearing authority, but their job is to remain invisible. One major problem facing the future of high school basketball here in the county is the shortage of officials. 

     Julie Goupille began officiating in 1997. When she began, there were 75 active officials on Aroostook County’s Board 150. Now there are 28. “One reason I think is it is a time commitment. People have to give up their evenings. And there is a lot of travel involved,” Goupille said. “When I first started, you never worked multiple games in a day. But because of dwindling numbers, it will happen every weekend this season.” This further explains the challenges that assignors run into.

Julie Goupille at a 2019 Class D Girls Regional Final. (Photo By Tim Goupille).

     Like anything else, there isn’t just one reason. But there is one that just about every official can attest to. “In my opinion, the primary reason is the abuse that officials take,” Goupille said. Everyone is guilty about complaining about calls or blaming the refs for why their team has a lost a game. After all, they are the easy targets. You don’t have to take any responsibility when laying the blame at the door of the officials. If your team lost by one point, it wasn’t the five layups they missed or the 10 free throws that didn’t fall. It was the player-control call with five seconds left in the fourth quarter. “You are fair game when you’re out on the floor,” Goupille said.

     Young Board 150 official Will Bridges started officiating just one year removed from high school. “I wanted to stay in the world of sports when I was going into college and also stay with basketball throughout my life,” Bridges said. But he really started because of the need for people willing to step up. “I knew Maine, but specifically Aroostook County, needed officials to help with games around the county.” With just two years of experience, Will has put up with more than his fair share of grief when out on the floor. “I have received more abuse than what I thought I was going to get when I first started. I received it from mostly coaches and fans.” 

Lights Up on The Armory’s Stage After a Year Online

     Early July, the lights turned on in a small black-box theater in Manhattan. The Armory finally returned to the stage after a year of virtual comedy performances. The audience was small, all masked, but excited. As the COVID-19 vaccines roll out and become more accessible, small venues such as this are returning to in-person shows. Returning is strange, but the performers are happy to be back.

     Melissa Canon Parker is a longtime member of The Armory who has performed on their improv comedy house teams and other resident shows. These include the fan favorite Shot4Shot, a drinking game set to a real movie that comedians–regardless of age, gender, race or size–act out. She felt awkward and uncomfortable returning to the stage, but said, “I’m not even sure where I’m going. But man oh man, is it so much fun!”

Melissa Caron Parker (far right) and teammates returned to The Armory stage, July 6, 2021. (Photo: The Armory Comedy)

     Performing improv on Zoom wasn’t easy, even for expert artists. Technical difficulties happen, sometimes making things awkward or slow. Everything has its perks, though. “There was definitely a learning curve in patience, taking turns to speak, challenges in the reliability of internet speed or technological capabilities for teammates. As a full-time mom, it was instantly easier for me to participate and attend shows,” Parker said.

     Some took every chance to perform online and others worked behind the scenes. Armory member Michelle Drozdick returned to her passion for writing. “The circumstances of the past year allowed me to write much more than I ever have before. I have a few screenplays and pilots now, along with short stories and poetry that have actually been published in small outlets that I’m really proud of.”

To Buy or Not to Buy

     It is no secret that the housing market has seen a boom the last two years. Lori Miles, a secondary hedge trading associate at Bangor Savings Bank, has seen a large increase in business. “Last year was a record setting year. We were very busy.” Housing prices in Maine have steadily increased through 2021. It has left many wondering if now is a good time to buy.      

     According to the Maine Real Estate Information Systems (MREIS), the median sale price for a home is up 14.2 percent from 2020. The primary factors for this increase in price are low inventory and high demand. New listings for the state are down 25.7 percent. With not many options, buyers are willing to spend more to purchase a home now. The median amount of time a listing is on the market is a mere 12 days.

     This year has also seen an influx of out-of-state buyers keeping housing prices high. Many have abandoned the city to find refuge somewhere rural due to Maine’s quiet nature and low crime rates, combined with COVID fears. Real estate agent for Next Home Experience, Jacob Kipping, said that his clients from Florida to Colorado have been, “Running away to Maine looking for peace and quiet.” Now that people have more options to work from home, it gives them the chance to move where they want. 

     Low inventory for homes will likely continue as winter approaches. People tend to hold off listing their houses in the colder months. While it is a great time to sell, lack of options and high housing costs have kept people from putting their homes on the market. Even if sellers get more than their asking price, they may end up spending more to purchase another home. Housing prices may go down slightly, but probably not significantly.

Boosting Maine’s Immunity Against COVID-19

     The FDA approved a COVID-19 booster for adults 18 years old and over. High cases have been affecting Maine this winter season. With the variant Omicron of great concern, the importance of a booster is critical. The hope of the booster is that it’ll be as effective as the first doses. Mike Allen, of Waterville, stated his thoughts on the effectiveness of the booster, “All I know is that the numbers have dropped significantly since the vaccine came out.” 

The Augusta State Armory hosted a free COVID-19 booster clinic.

     Another concern is the side effects of the boosters and if they are like the first dose. Alexa Querry, of Portland, shared information about her side effects after receiving the COVID-19 booster. Alexa is a first grade teacher and received her vaccine through the school she works for. “I slept fine the first night and had a sore arm for sure. I think I had a swollen lymph node even. The second night, almost 36 hours after, I had chills and shakes. By the next morning I was just fine!” 

     There has been a high demand for COVID-19 boosters across the country, not just in Maine. Some pop-up clinics are helping local pharmacies keep up with the demand.  The Maine CDC and National Guard set up a clinic this week at the Augusta Armory from Dec. 7 to 11. Allen luckily didn’t have to wait long for his booster.  “I did not have a hard time. My work provided it.”

     With the high number of cases, people are raising questions about COVID-19 prevention. Alexa’s spouse, Bill Querry, shared his thoughts on the matter. Bill said, “I think with proper masking, distancing and vaccines, we can hope to return to a more normal life.” 

Full Capacity Concerts Are Back as Covid Numbers Are Rising Again

Indoor summer concerts are back. It seems like every day an artist announces a new tour. Harry Styles recently announced the continuation of the U.S. leg of his world tour, rescheduled from last year due to Covid-19. So far, he has announced only the U.S. portion of the tour though. In most of the rest of the world, full capacity concerts are not a thing again yet.

Across the country, everyone from Lady Gaga to Maroon 5 to Bruno Mars is booking multi-city tours.  According to data platform PredictHQ, ticket sales are booming. The predicted revenue for June is $1.6 billion.  People are excited to attend events again, and bands are excited to perform.

At the same time, Covid cases are steadily creeping back up in every state, mostly because of the Delta variant. Most states have no mask mandates in place and Covid protocols vary from venue to venue.  During a recent White House briefing, Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that this is becoming a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

In Las Vegas, there have been huge crowds since shows have returned and the mask mandate has dropped. Las Vegas has seen its highest rate of new Covid cases since February. The Southern Nevada Health District advised that everyone wear masks again. But it has no authority to enforce it.

Phyliss Jenkins attended the first full-capacity event at the

Phyliss Jenkins attends a Bruno Mars concert.

MGM Grand Garden Arena since before the lockdown. She saw two shows that weekend, Dave Chappelle and Bruno Mars. She says that at one show they did offer masks, but it was more of a swag gift. At the other, they did not. In both crowds, few people wore masks at any time. But still, she’s excited. “I would say personally, on a scale of 1-10, I’m about a 12. Not only personally, having not been anywhere for over a year, but to be going to two concerts. That even in a normal year would be exciting. So, I’m really, really, excited,” she said. But she is also worried about coronavirus. “I am still concerned about it…throughout both of the shows and going through the casinos, because you don’t have to wear masks. But I still had my mask on throughout both shows.”

Movie Theater Comeback Halted by Delta Variant

Several months ago, headlines said that movie theaters were getting back to normal. COVID-19 restrictions started lifting and people began returning to the theaters. Just a few months on and the Delta variant is raging. Movie theaters are once again struggling to recover.

During the lockdown in 2020, movie studios opted to show their films on their streaming platforms. Once vaccinations began, it looked as if a comeback was possible. Hollywood launched a PR campaign proclaiming “the big screen is back.”

And for a while it was. During Memorial Weekend, box office sales hit $100 million. Those were the best weekend sales since the pandemic began. Yet that was less than half of the sales from the same weekend in 2019.

Sharonne Hill brought her son, Jadon, and niece, Ashley, to see “Paw Patrol: The Movie ” recently. It was their first theater outing since the pandemic began. She thinks theaters may be forced to shut down again. So, she ventured out as a treat. “We’re all just tired of sitting in the house. Streaming movies at home was great at first, but with the way COVID-19 is coming back, I don’t know how long theaters will be open. I thought we’d better get here while we still can.”

Casualties of COVID

     All of us have had to make adjustments and sacrifices during the last year because of the COVID-19 virus. No one has had to do this more than those in assisted living facilities. For much of the last year, they have been quarantined in their facilities with limited human contact. Most of their human contact was with the people who work in those facilities. So how was it for the people who work in assisted living facilities?

     “We had no idea what we were in for,” Sharon Wills, a licensed practical nurse who has

worked in assisted living facilities for the last 30 years, said. “When all of the restrictions hit, we had to set up a new way of doing things.” No one had ever had to deal with something like this, where everyone had to be kept from everyone else.

     So what had to be done to handle COVID-19 because the elderly were the most likely to die from the virus? According to Wills, “First, we had to keep everyone isolated as much as possible. We cancelled all social activities such as dining, church, crafts, social hour and visits. We also had to keep our staff safe by doing as much testing as possible to ensure that our residents would be safe. We kept hoping that things would end quickly. But as time went on, we realized that was not going to happen. We knew that we were going to have to fill the holes somehow. We encouraged family to call their loved ones as much as possible. Then we allowed window visits when weather permitted. And then as staff we visited more with the residents than before the virus. All of this helped, but we knew it was never going to be the same as family visits.”

     On Oct. 1, 2020, Governor Tim Walz of Minnesota opened visits for assisted living facilities

Nursing home window visits.

in Minnesota. “Thank the Good Lord above!” was all assisted living resident Winifred Kunst could say when her family was able to visit again. “I went so long without seeing my children and grandchildren that I had to think hard to remember what everyone looked like when I saw them again.”                     

     Jan. 10, 2021, Winifred’s 96th birthday, she tested positive for COVID-19. This led to another two weeks of quarantine. Winifred  came through healthier than ever. “I have lived through two world wars, the birth of my four children, the death of all my brothers and sisters and the death of my husband. But going through this COVID was in many ways harder because I did not have my family with me.”

     Family time was one of the biggest casualties of COVID.  

Return to Action

     Who’s ready for some UMPI baseball? Yes, the UMPI owls will be playing their spring sports this year and this includes UMPI’s baseball team. UMPI baseball has been waiting a long time to return to action and play games.  UMPI’s baseball team was turned around on its way to Florida last year and it left a sour taste in everyone’s mouths. 

     The pandemic has changed sports for the time being. When athletes play now they have to wear masks on the field or the court or wherever they play their prospective sports. 

UMPI Owls at Practice.

     The spring athletes are very excited to turn to play. Among those excited this season are baseball players Roberto De La Pena and William Stinson. 

     William said, “I’m very excited to be able to go out and play for my last year. Team looks good overall. I’m hoping that the work put in, in the off season will show. I think we are all ready for the season considering the amount of obstacles we’ve had to overcome with COVID.” William has played for UMPI all four seasons on the baseball team and is chomping at the bit to get going so that he can play one last season with his father, Coach Roger Stinson, at the helm. 

     Another senior coming back for a fifth season is Roberto De La Pena. He is commonly known on the team as “the Grandfather.” He earned this nickname because he is the oldest player on the UMPI baseball roster. Roberto said, “My excitement for this season has been a long wait! This is my last year and I worked very hard to get here.” Roberto comes all the way from California. He’s had to sacrifice a lot to come back a fifth year so that he can play his senior year of college baseball here at UMPI. 

     The baseball team members are very excited to be free of this COVID mess, even if it’s only seven innings at a time. Not to mention they all get to play together again, which everyone is very happy to do. Roberto also said, “The team looks good. We are young and need to work on some things, but I believe we should be good. I’m ready for the season.  I’ve dealt with a lot in the last year, and I’m ready to finish as an UMPI Owl.” Both of these players have been nothing but loyal to UMPI and live by that loyalty. 

     Speaking of loyalty, Coach Roger Stinson has also been here for quite some time. Coach Stinson said, “There are many words a person could use for the excitement level that I have for this season.  But I truly think the best word to use is thankful…. This has been a long time coming.” 

     Coach Stinson mentioned how proud he is of the players for going through the COVID protocols and not letting it get to them.  He is thrilled to rack up a few wins and show the UMPI community that the team is headed in the right direction. He thinks the freshmen need to work their way through the nerves of playing college baseball. Once they get through that, things will be looking up for the Owls. 

Clinic Issues During COVID-19

     During the COVID crisis, what were clinics and their patients going through? Looking from the inside out helps everyone see what the staff were going through.

     Sitting down with a clinic supervisor can answer some of the issues the staff were facing. Clinic supervisor Leah Torgerson shared, “We were so confused because no protocols were in place when it all started. We had to make them up as we went along. Who were we going to see at the clinics or the hospitals? We had protective equipment, but those ran out quickly. Our suppliers were deluged with requests, so getting more supplies became an immediate problem.” These were some of the problems that the local clinics were facing.

Clinic lines, 2021.

     Administrators started to react to the virus when they realized that they were dealing with an epidemic. Torgerson went on to say, “The health care organization that runs our clinic met with all supervisors to consolidate services, which meant closing some of the clinics and directing our patients to hospitals and to certain clinics that remained open. This meant that some of our non-medical staff were furloughed for a time and an overload of work for the medical teams. Although it seemed like a good idea at first to furlough non-medical staff, it turned into a paperwork nightmare shortly after it was implemented because medical staff spent a great deal of their time filling out medical and insurance paperwork. Along with the normal paperwork, the government wanted additional paperwork, completed with each suspected and actual case of COVID. “Along with the COVID caseload, what happened to the normal medical cases that clinics handle? That part of the COVID crisis went largely ignored. Patients with other non-emergency medical appointments were told to wait until clinics could catch up with the unexpected overload of COVID appointments. “We really worried about our regular patients during the crisis. When we realized that COVID was not going to be an overnight cure, we decided to reach out to our regular patients to make sure that their ongoing medical issues were not becoming more serious issues,” Torgerson said.

     Clinic patient Teri Ward shared, “I really began to worry about my ongoing medical issues during the COVID crisis. Getting the COVID virus worried me a lot because I have many of the medical conditions that put me in the high-risk categories. But beyond the fear of COVID was my ongoing medical issues. I was having a difficult time getting an appointment for my health issues. It wasn’t until many of the COVID protocols were in place that I was able to see my doctors for my existing medical issues. That took away a lot of the stress that I had during COVID.”

     Everyone has been dealing with the stress of COVID but those with existing medical conditions have had to be concerned with contracting the COVID virus as well as the lack of attention to their existing medical conditions.

Pride Festivals 2021

 

     Pride festivals around the country were postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic. As COVID-19 vaccines become available, many people are looking forward to Pride in 2021. “It is something I always look forward to,” Taylor Williams, 23, said. “I really missed it last year.”

     Pride is an event that celebrates lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people. The event takes place in most major U.S. cities. It helps promote LGBTQ rights and social acceptance. It is a time to celebrate differences and show support for all sexual orientations. 

San Francisco Pride Festival, 2018.

     “Many people in society do not accept me because I am gay,” Williams said. “Pride makes me feel like I can be myself. I feel valued for who I am as a person rather than judged for my sexual orientation.” 

     According to a Gallup poll, 5.6 percent of Americans identify as LGBTQ. This number has increased in recent years, but it still represents a small portion of the population. Pride festivals allow this group to come together and celebrate with others like them. 

     “One thing my partner and I miss the most is seeing other couples that look like us,” Amy Fallaw, 23, said. “We moved a year ago and we still haven’t really made friends. It’s going to be awesome to make those connections at Pride.”

     Few cities have announced an official schedule for Pride 2021. But that does not mean the celebration has been cancelled. It is unclear whether in-person events will be possible but many organizers are discussing other options. These include decorating businesses and houses, organizing a vehicle parade and hosting several virtual events. 

     “I hope it is safe to attend Pride in-person this year,” Williams said. “If not, I hope to go to some of the virtual events.” 

     Pride is an important celebration for the LGBTQ community and their allies. Whether in-person or online, many look forward to attending this year.