LEE, Maine — Randy Harris remembers playing soccer at Lee Academy during the late 1970s on a field known as “The Swamp” for obvious reasons.
Not only were soggy field conditions an issue back in the day, but the fact the field wasn’t the regulation 110-by-60 yards meant at least once during Harris’ career the Pandas had to play a postseason match on the road despite being the higher-seeded team.
School officials ultimately remedied that situation by creating a regulation-sized soccer field on the Lee baseball field, though over the years that presented its own challenges with the dirt baseball infield comprising much of the soccer pitch.
“The old field was half dirt, so when you fell on that part it hurt more,” said Rylie Mallett, a senior co-captain of this year’s Lee Academy girls soccer squad.
But rather than await the inevitable scrapes and bruises that come when skin meets dirt this season, Mallett and her teammates are anxiously looking forward to their first home match against Washington Academy of East Machias on Saturday.
They’ll be playing on a brand-new, all-grass soccer field.
When the Lee Academy boys soccer team opened its season with a 3-2 home loss to Penquis Valley of Milo, it marked the culmination of a three-year effort to carve a new field out of a piece of the Maine woods.
The project had its genesis in the benevolence of the late Herbert Haynes and his wife, Virginia, whose H.C. Haynes Inc. — a forest managing and forest products company based in neighboring Winn — donated a large parcel of land to the school in 2010.
The company also donated much of the site preparation work, including clearing the former woodlot for initial seeding in 2011.
School officials had hoped to play games there last fall but opted to give the field an additional year for the grass to take hold, and now with all the recent rain, they have been cautious in its use early this season by limiting teams to a few practice sessions along with home matches.
“We just want to be careful with it,” said Harris, now the academy’s athletic administrator.
Those who have used the field already this season appreciate the upgrade.
“The other field was half dirt and half grass, and it was kind of rough because you’d be going along and you’d hit a rock with the ball,” said Kyler Peters, a junior tri-captain of this year’s Lee boys soccer team. “This field is way better. It seems bigger, it’s flat and the ball moves better. Everything’s better.”
The Lee Academy girls squad will practice on the new field for the first time Friday before hosting Washington Academy at 1 p.m. Saturday in the first match of a girls-boys soccer doubleheader between the two schools.
“We were there watching when the boys played their first game there,” said Mallett. “We’re really excited.”
Harris said the addition of the new field, which also will be home to the community’s two junior high school teams, will reduce the wear and tear on the baseball field and should be a more fan-friendly venue for local soccer fans.
The Lee baseball field is situated below road level, with fans often sitting a good distance away looking down on the action.
The new soccer field is located on a hill, and fans can now set up their folding chairs within 10 or 15 feet of the sidelines.
“It should be beneficial all the way around,” he said.
MDI girls’ XC squad starts fast
The Mount Desert Island girls cross country team seemingly has picked up right where it left off last fall when it won its second straight Class B state championship.
A week after cruising to victory in the season-opening Ellsworth Invitational, the Trojans dominated last Saturday’s Presque Isle Invitational meet at Caribou.
Senior Maggie Painter led five MDI runners among the top seven finishers as coach Desiree Sirois’ club totaled 18 points to easily outdistance reigning Class C state champion Washburn, the runner-up with 71 points.
John Bapst of Bangor (74) and Caribou (98) were next in the 12-school field.
Painter teamed with classmate Isabel Erickson and junior Weylon Henggeler for a 1-2-3 finish, with a pack time for that trio of just 26 seconds. Senior Olivia Erickson and junior Caroline Driscoll placed fifth and seventh for the Trojans, while freshmen Lydia DaCorte and Eli Hinerfeld finished 10th and 13th.
The race’s top non-MDI runner was fourth-place Carsyn Koch of Washburn, the three-time defending Class C individual state champion.
The MDI girls return to action Friday with a race at Orono, the Old Town Sectional on Sept. 28 and perhaps their first major challenge Oct. 5 at the Maine Festival of Champions at the Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast.
The Trojans are the festival’s two-time defending champions.
John Bapst won the boys race at the Presque Isle Invitational with 37 points, followed by MDI (60), Caribou (82) and Presque Isle (83). Matthew Toussaint of Fort Kent was the boys’ individual winner, followed by Connor Wagner of John Bapst, Lucas Kinney of Caribou, Jordan Harris of MDI and Josh Zapsky of Hermon.