As a standout distance runner at Brewer High School in the late 1970s, Glendon Rand never had the thrill of competing in a New England championship meet.
That’s because in 1977, the Maine Principals’ Association voted not to send Maine cross country athletes to New Englands.
In turn, the current Brewer cross country and outdoor track and field coach was one of the driving forces in not only convincing the association to send Maine runners to New Englands starting in 1998, but also allowing Maine teams to compete (2005).
Rand is now trying to make his voice heard again, as he’s encouraging track and field athletes throughout the state to walk a lap together prior to this weekend’s meets and protest the MPA’s proposal to not send athletes to New Englands.
“Anybody who wants to get out and walk that lap to try and show support would be great,” said Rand, who added coaches, parents, former athletes and coaches are more than encouraged to get involved.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen at every meet this weekend, to walk not just with their team but together to try to make a difference.”
The proposal is one of several cost-cutting recommendations the MPA ad hoc committee will vote on Jan. 26, including reducing the number of regular-season games in sports governed by Heal points, and cutting back on preseason and holiday tournaments that teams attend.
The cost-cutting proposals come in response to recent cuts in state subsidy to education as well as additional cuts expected during the next two-year budget cycle.
“Schools are looking at having to make some drastic changes academically with the reduction in subsidy. You’re looking at larger class sizes and perhaps some classes not being offered,” MPA executive director Dick Durost said in a past BDN story. “What we’re trying to do here is to make some changes across the board with athletics that will still keep the playing field level for all schools.”
Rand isn’t pleased with the proposal since most schools only pay a $15 meet entry fee for athletes to compete in New England championships while athletes and parents contribute toward expenses such as lodging, gasoline and meals.
“And coaches and athletes and their families are doing that willingly,” Rand said. “To come in through the back door like this and use the excuse that it’s going to save money even though it’s not, trying to take away something I don’t agree with it, its just not right.”
For example, when Brewer has qualified individuals and relay teams in the past, the local recreation department has loaned the school a van while the athletes pay for the gasoline.
And Brewer, like some other schools, doesn’t pay its coaches a stipend to coach their runners at the event. Athletes take their own spending money for extracurricular activities to cover meals and shopping.
“It’s an incredible thing to aspire to and it just opens up a whole new world for a lot of kids, something that doesn’t have to cost schools a penny. That’s the thing that’s just baffling,” Rand said.
Maine athletes have excelled on this big stage in the past.
Last fall, Abbey Leonardi of Kennebunk, Emily Durgin of Bonny Eagle in Standish and Cheverus of Portland’s Fiona Hendry, all freshmen, finished first, second and ninth, respectively, at the cross country championships in New Hampshire.
Other notable New England champions from Maine include Ben True, Eric Giddings, Louie Luchini and Becky O’Brien, all of whom went on to compete at Division I universities.
The first year Maine cross country athletes were allowed to compete in New Englands (1998) was the same year Ellsworth’s Luchini finished second in Foot Locker’s national championship race.
Participation in the New England meet is voluntary. Usually, athletes have a few days after the state championships to determine whether they intend to compete in New Englands.
Athletes have also enjoyed memorable experiences off the track.
In 2003, when former Brewer star Danielle Lainez and seven other teammates competed in the meet, Lainez met and took a photograph with Stacy Dragila, who at the time held the world record in the pole vault.
Rand feels experiences like that shouldn’t be stripped away from the athletes.
“You have to wonder what the motivation is here. Some administrators who weren’t in favor of going to New Englands in the first place are using it as an excuse to do away with it,” he said. “The fact that we’re not spending money for it [at Brewer], I can’t come up with a justification for doing away with it.”
And, when cross country and outdoor track championships are held in Maine – the indoor meet is traditionally in Boston – it can boost local businesses such as hotels, restaurants and local theme parks, according to Rand.
The outdoor track and field meet was at Thornton Academy in Saco last spring and in 2005, while the cross country championships came to Cumberland’s Twin Brook Recreation Area in 2007.
One Maine athlete has already voiced her opinion on the issue.
Melody Lam, a junior distance runner at Mt. Blue in Farmington and one of the state’s top runners, created a group on the social networking site Facebook, “Save New Englands,” which has nearly 400 members in it that include coaches, athletes and former athletes.
Lam wrote an editorial on her Blogspot Web site at melodyonthelam.blogspot.com.
“It’s kind of neat how the technology that we have today gives a voice to the athletes,” Rand said.
A lot of Maine athletes bond at the New England meets and form lifelong friendships that go beyond track and field.
“Think of how close [Brewer sophomore] Michelle [Haluska] is with Melody. That’s kind of cool, really,” Rand said.
In addition to Lam’s efforts, there is a photograph of multiple Brewer track athletes on the Eastern Maine Indoor Track League Web site at www.sub5.com/emitl/mpa/index.htm wearing New England meet shirts and expressing frustrated looks on their faces. The site also includes links to information, such as which schools pay their coaches a stipend and for transportation.