WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — Athletes attend Division I institutions for the opportunity to play at the highest level. And, of course, to get an education.
However, the commitment to being a student-athlete brings with it numerous sacrifices.
Saturday, as their peers were participating in graduation ceremonies at Alfond Arena in Orono, the three graduating seniors on the University of Maine baseball team were nearly 350 miles away.
As often happens with UMaine senior baseball and softball players, Matt Howard, Joe Mercurio and Justin Latta missed commencement to play the game they love.
“I was a little disappointed Mercurio, Latta and myself didn’t get to go to graduation today,” said Howard, a kinesiology and physiology graduate from Weston, Mass. “It’s nice just knowing that we graduated.”
For Latta, who came to UMaine from Lubbock, Texas, it wasn’t that big of a deal.
“I didn’t go to my high school one, either,” said Latta, who earned a degree in biology.
In that instance, his Monterey High School baseball team was in the playoffs.
“I would rather do this than walk across a stage,” added Latta.
Mercurio, from Brewster, N.Y., said his commitment to the baseball team far outweighed the desire to attend graduation.
“There’s no other place I’d rather be than on the baseball field,” said Mercurio, who earned a degree in communications.
He also pointed out the seniors have known since the 2010 schedule was released that they would be playing ball in West Hartford on commencement day.
“We knew we weren’t going to be there for graduation, so we’ve all kind of prepared (mentally) for it,” he added. “We’ve got a job to do.
“Just knowing that you’re graduating and you’re done, that’s good enough for me. I know I did it,” Mercurio said.
Mercurio arrived late to his high school prom, but was able to attend graduation — but only because his Kennedy High School squad had been eliminated from the playoffs.
Howard, who could return for a fifth season of eligibility after redshirting last year because of shoulder surgery, is gratified about his experience at UMaine.
“I came here for baseball, but I also came here for academics,” Howard said. “I had to make sure I stayed on that path, too, so I’m pretty happy with that.”
Howard is considering attending grad school.