HOULTON, Maine — The Houlton Band of Maliseets built it, and the players came.
The Houlton high school football club played its very first game against the Old Town junior varsity team Monday, Sept. 23, at the new Maliseet Sports Complex.T he home team did not disappoint, rolling to a 21-0 victory.
Prior to the game, tribal members dedicated and blessed the field with a smudging ceremony.
“We are really excited to be here and bless this beautiful new field,” said Brenda Commander, tribal chief for the Houlton Band of Maliseets. “We never gave up on building this field.”
Ten years in the making, Tribal elders view the sports complex as an essential piece of providing physical fitness options for the Maliseet community to help combat obesity.
“This new field will provide healthy exercise activities for all tribal members, helping them return to a natural state of good health,” Commander said. “We believe that a multi-sport athletic field will result in better school performance and better self-esteem, increase family time and bring back good old-fashioned fun.”
The athletic complex is located on 14.75 acres on the reservation and consists of a regulation-sized football field and running/walking track. Tribal officials announced Monday, Sept. 23, that they have received an additional grant to place lights on the football field in the spring.
“We were just awarded a [federal Housing and Urban Development] grant to put in lights next year,” said Rosa McNally, grant writer for the Maliseets. “It will be amazing to see this field illuminated next year. It will just glow.”
The complex was made possible by a $600,000 Indian Community Development Block Grant from the HUD Office of Native American Programs. The tribe committed a combination of land resources, cash and in-kind services totaling $151,000.
The grant was awarded in September 2011, but construction of the field was delayed after the initial bids came in higher than anticipated. Construction commenced this past spring.
Houlton’s varsity football program, as well as the RSU 29 junior high teams, will play all of their home games at the new facility.
“This field is a long time coming,” RSU 29 Superintendent Mike Hammer said. “I remember when coach [Brian] Reynolds came to us and said they wanted to start a varsity football team. I asked them where they would play, and he said they would figure that part out. I really hope that this program will build and it’s a wonderful thing to see come to reality. We are privileged to be a part of this partnership with the Maliseets.”
Additional space is available for a baseball field, now considered phase three of the project, if the tribe is able to secure additional grant funds.