ORONO — Proper nutrition and success in the classroom are just as important to young athletes as hitting a fastball, scoring a touchdown or making a clutch free throw.
That’s the message University of Maine coaches and athletes emphasized to nearly 200 fifth-grade students Friday as Black Bear Sports Properties hosted the first Black Bears of Tomorrow event on a sun-splashed day.
The festivities, which were sponsored by WeightWatchers, featured a meet-and-greet with UMaine baseball coach Steve Trimper, pep band director Chris White, assistant men’s hockey coach Bob Corkum, men’s basketball coach Ted Woodward, football coach Jack Cosgrove and various athletes and faculty members.
“I think it’s a really good chance for kids to see not only the University of Maine, but really to learn about the importance of a healthy lifestyle and see all the different aspects of college and athletics,” said UMaine student and Black Bear Sports Properties intern Caitlin Conroy, who organized the event along with Jason Hoyt, an accountant execute for BBSP.
The event kicked off with a speech from Trimper at Morse Field at Alfond Stadium before the youngsters from schools in Brewer, Auburn, Lewiston, Owls Head and Skowhegan ventured off on a campus tour that included stops at the Hudson Museum, the Collins Center for the Arts and a look at a campus dorm room.
Later, UMaine mascot Bananas the Black Bear surprised the kids at Alfond Arena, where Cosgrove, Corkum and Woodward all spoke.
Trimper was able to squeeze in an eight-minute speech before heading to Long Island for a weekend series with Stony Brook, and one of the things he emphasized was staying positive, win or lose.
“There’s a lot of stresses in today’s world whether you’re a fifth-grader or a college baseball coach or an administrator,” Trimper said. “The second thing is just having a healthy mind and healthy body through nutrition and exercise. A student-athlete can’t play a college sport and be successful in the classroom unless they’re putting in that exercise and nutrition.”
Conroy has been organizing the event since the beginning of the fall semester, and even though athletes and coaches were present throughout the day, it wasn’t all about sports.
“We tried to focus not only on athletics but also on academics and the arts,” Conroy said.
Samantha Wheeler, a junior on the UMaine women’s basketball team, is hoping the youngsters can keep learning the value and importance of a healthy lifestyle.
“Being healthy is a huge factor in everybody’s lives and if kids can learn that at a young age, they’ll be able to use that in their future and in their daily lives,” Wheeler said.
Conroy knows that very well, as she played varsity field hockey at Falmouth High and decided to participate on the university’s club team once she arrived on campus.
“The reason I wanted to continue it in college was more just to have fun and get some exercise,” she said. “I think it was a really great way to get involved in college and have some fun and get some exercise.”
The student turnout included a throng from the State Street School in Brewer, and Robin Harris, who plays both basketball and baseball, enjoyed his experience and believes performance in the classroom is just as important to that of the athletic arena.
“Once you retire from sports you can do something else when you’re older,” said Harris, who added that the most important thing he learned was to “always to be active and eat right and have good grades.”
Harris’ teacher, Brenda Meehan, took Trimper’s speech to heart and is hoping it can rub off on her students.
“What I found inspirational about this talk already is they talk a lot about character, they talk a lot about attitude and that’s really key to this age because they’re learning,” Meehan said, “and if they learn bad habits, those are hard to break.”
Trimper also talked about the importance of studying and proper eating habits and he told the kids that if they rely too much on junk food “all that sugar, it really wears you down and it doesn’t allow your car to drive to the end of the day.”
Trimper has two daughters in fifth grade, so he related well to the audience.
“This is an easy age for me because I’m growing up with them right now,” he said.
After Trimper finished his speech, White emphasized that the students can stay involved in athletics and be healthy while playing in the pep band.
“That’s a good connection between music and the arts and athletics,” Conroy said.
Wheeler was also happy to inspire some potential future Black Bears.
“They look up to us every day so we have to show them the right thing to do,” she said.