John Bapst of Bangor and Orono recently brought high school football back to the University of Maine for the first time in 11 years, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
The artificial surface at Morse Field negated the effect of daylong rain on the contest. Each team observed Senior Night in part by displaying each honoree and their parents’ names on the giant scoreboard. And the big-time setting at arguably the state’s best football facility will provide lifetime memories, particularly for those seniors whose playing careers soon will end.
The schools hope to make this an annual event, and University of Maine athletic officials aspire to bring even more high school football back to campus.
It’s seemingly the latest step in a departure from the perception that the university wasn’t all that welcoming to outside users of their facilities over the years, a belief only partially true at best given that sports such as ice hockey, swimming and indoor track have relied heavily on UMaine to host their events given the paucity of facilities for such events in eastern and northern Maine.
But more recently even more campus venues have been made available, in part because the addition of artificial turf has reduced pregame and postgame maintenance demands so those fields may be turned over from one activity to another much quicker.
The Motor City American Legion baseball team has used Mahaney Diamond during the summer, and that field also filled a need when the 2009 Class A state final was postponed by rain and a preliminary-round game between Orono and Houlton this spring similarly was forced from its original locale. And not only has John Bapst called the university home to its field hockey program this fall, all three state championship matches will be played there Saturday.
The growing relationship seems like a winner for everyone.
For high school players and teams, it’s a chance to play on a bigger stage, including some of the few artificial surfaces north of Augusta.
For the university it’s an obvious marketing opportunity. It’s a chance to get more Maine high school kids, either the athletes or fans watching them, on campus, providing exposure that could lead more kids to attend summer camps in Orono while they’re still in high school or consider the university as their ultimate college option.
Of course, the high school games must be staged around the university’s own athletic schedule, and there are rental costs — though John Bapst and Orono boosters offset the latter issue by selling game sponsorships.
But expect there to be more high school football on campus in the coming years, either regular-season contests like Orono-John Bapst or postseason games.
Should the Maine Principals’ Association add a fourth football class next year, it likely would need a second site to host the state finals in addition to Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. The university would be a logical northern candidate, along with turf fields at Hampden Academy, Husson University and Colby College.
Who knows, maybe the Pine Tree Conference or LTC would consider staging their championship games there. Neutral sites are common for regional finals in many sports. Doing the same thing in football also would give the teams an additional game on artificial turf before the state finals.
Can you imagine a Bangor-Lawrence Eastern Maine Class A football final at Morse Field? Talk about a special occasion — and that the university is open to it is a good first step.