ORONO, Maine — Life on the University of Maine campus is relatively quiet during the summer months.
That said, Memorial Gymnasium, Wallace Pool, the New Balance Student Recreation Center and Alfond Arena are often bustling with activity as youngsters from across Maine participate in UMaine summer sports camps.
Numerous UMaine student-athletes are immersed in the activities, teaching and working with aspiring athletes as part of their summer routine. Fifth-year football player Kendall James was among the Black Bears helping out with this week’s boys basketball camp.
“This is my first love right here, basketball,” the cornerback said Thursday as camp wrapped up inside Memorial Gym.
James, who also plans to work a hockey camp — yes, he can skate — smiled as he spoke about spending some of his summer on campus.
“It’s kind of relaxing, actually,” he said. “You don’t have many distractions. You can work on football and just enjoy the kids.”
For many student-athletes, summer is a time to take advantage of the slower pace to improve in the classroom, in the weight room and with their sports skills.
Some take classes, reducing their course load during the busy sports season. Many work on improving themselves physically to compete more effectively.
Others enjoy the opportunity to earn some money working at one of UMaine’s numerous sports camps. And some do all of the above.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s football team is the largest athletic presence on campus during the summer. The Black Bears have developed a tradition of gathering in a large group — 50 or more in recent years — to perform voluntary football workouts, along with strength and conditioning training.
There were approximately 20 players on campus during June, while a larger contingent will convene for the four-plus weeks leading up to the start of training camp in August.
“Just being up here together is a huge deal,” said senior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski. “Having as many guys as we can up here all summer long builds team morale.”
Many of the players also were involved with UMaine’s youth football camp June 20-23. A handful, including senior defensive end Michael Cole, have been taking classes.
“Pretty much it’s just a daily grind up here,” Cole said. “We wake up, either work out at 6 a.m. or work out at 1 p.m., base our day around that.”
Cole and Wasilewski both worked at a UMaine baseball camp last year.
While most of the football players are headed home for a 10-day hiatus over the Fourth of July holiday, four UMaine women’s basketball players collectively planned their summer to include classes, hoop, training and other activities.
Courtney Anderson of Greene, Liz Wood, Lauren Bodine and Ali Nalivaika have spent a lot of time together during June. That included working the recent boys basketball camp.
“We decided we wanted to take classes and we made sure they were at the same time so we were all working together, which is nice,” said Anderson, a junior point guard on coach Richard Barron’s squad.
Anderson said NCAA rules allow the players two hours per week of one-on-one workouts with members of the coaching staff, in addition to their weightlifting and conditioning, during the summer.
“It’s really an opportunity to stay focused and get better,” Wood said.
The chance to pick off a class or two during the summer also has benefits.
“We take classes during the summer to keep our course load light during the year,” said Wood, who was working her first camp this week.
“It was really fun,” she added. “It’s cool to be at the other end of the spectrum, being the coach and having to ref [games].”
Wood will spend July in Orono before returning home to Catlett, Va., during August prior to the start of the fall semester.
The student-athletes appreciate having the chance to earn some money for their efforts while working with are youngsters.
“I think there’s a lot of benefits to it [staying in Orono during the summer],” Wasilewski said. “We love working with the kids, getting the community involved, showing them the facilities — hopefully getting a bigger fan base.”
Anderson agreed working at the camps is a positive experience, especially in terms of interacting with people they might not encounter during the school year.
“We know a lot of the girls around the community, but we rarely see the boys, so it’s really cool to get to know them,” Anderson said of being involved with the boys camp.
As Thursday’s session concluded, Wood was approached by the parent of a camper who asked her to explain to his son as to the benefits of weight training for basketball players.
Wood patiently shared her thoughts on the subject with the young man.
When they aren’t doing basketball-related activities, the women’s basketball quartet has been trying to do some other fun things, including going camping in Saco.
“It was a challenge. Coach Barron didn’t think we could do it,” a smiling Wood said of the camping excursion. “We proved him wrong.”
The teammates, who attended the June 21 Darius Rucker concert on the Bangor waterfront, plan to spend Independence Day in Bar Harbor.
“We’re trying to do things that we can’t normally do during the year,” said Anderson, who pointed out the rigors of trying to balance class, basketball camp and their own hoop pursuits.
“It’s been a long week because you have to fit your workouts in during lunch time,” she said. “It’s exhausting, but we like it. We love summer.”