What part of “education” stops at the football field? As a former University of Maine student-athlete, I was offended to read in the paper suggestions that in light of current tough economic times at the university we should cut football like Northeastern and Hofstra. It is extremely discouraging to see that the first people to throw a penalty flag on the football team profess to be those in higher education under the guise of saving academics for some “ideal student.” Football players need not apply.
Those who wonder why we even have sports might be interested to know that interscholastic athletics were introduced to give students the opportunity to learn real-life lessons that cannot be taught in a conventional classroom. Lessons such as: life isn’t fair; or when you get knocked down, get up; or if you want it, earn it. Lessons such as, if someone is better than you, they will start and you can sit on the sidelines and mope or work harder to get in the game. Lessons such as, how to win with integrity and how to be gracious in defeat.
What is demanded of these young men is more than what is asked of other students. That demand goes with their privilege of being described as a student-athlete. If they can’t cut it in the classroom they are not eligible for athletic participation. Under the leadership of coach Jack Cosgrove (football class of ’78) the UMaine foot-ball team has boasted the Colonial Athletic Conference Student-Athlete of the Year two of the past three years, according to the BDN sports page.
Athletics continues to be one of the most enlightening parts of my ongoing education, and I may not have qualified money-wise to go to college were it not for basketball. My parents had three of us at Maine at the same time and I won my scholarship at an audition in Lengyel Gym back when that practice was legal. I have to be-lieve many of the 90 or so football players currently at Maine may not have adequate resources, or the ability to complete their education without football. Then what?
Remember that really great teacher we all had in school who said “follow your passion!?” For some it’s economics, chemistry or the arts. My passion was basketball, which paved the way for my degree in education, the ability to travel throughout Europe and play my sport professionally, and numerous job opportunities. My business card today pays tribute to basketball and the opportunities afforded to me through University of Maine Athletics. Football allows young men to have similar options.
Is that now a luxury? I believe the actual cost of not having football ultimately would be extremely high. The football guys I knew in college were trying to figure things out, as we all were in our early 20s. For some, football kept them in school. Those same guys are now leaders in education, members of the military, coaches, police officers, bankers, lawyers, large and small business owners and, judging from the group of 60-plus who attended former coach Walter Abbott’s retirement gathering, some of the most well-spoken, inspirational, contributing members to society one could imagine.
Those same men have stepped up monetarily by establishing a scholarship in Walt’s name, not unlike another philanthropic visionary, the late Harold Alfond. Harold has donated millions to not only football at UMaine but to many colleges and athletic facilities. He believed in people and their potential for greatness, under-standing that through their athletic endeavors students can learn more than book smarts, they learn how to be successful in life.
Several local high schools have recently added football programs. The people in those small communities clearly perceive its value. If our youths are involved on the athletic field, they are engaged and challenged and less likely to find trouble.
If we are going to be great as a country and a university community once again, post-war and recession, we can ill- afford to cut educational opportunities like football. I trust those guys to be the teammates who can step up, make big plays and successfully lead us through life’s uprights, especially armed with their college de-grees.
Emily Ellis of Bangor is a 1985 graduate of the University of Maine where she was a standout player on the women’s basketball team. She is the owner of Maine Team Realty.