ORONO, Maine — Mary Cady is often reminded by her children that she was born too soon.
Too soon, that is, to have been able to compete in track and field, a sport that was wildly popular in her native Kansas.
But with Title IX still nearly a decade from implementation, there were no opportunities for girls in the 1960s.
“There were no sports for girls in high school when I was in school,” said Cady, who grew up on a farm in Holton, located about an hour from the University of Kansas.
“Growing up, I used to play football and baseball with my brothers, yet there were no organized sports for girls,” the Orono resident said.
Cady nonetheless developed a passion for track and field, one that was influenced by the presence of legendary runner Jim Ryun, who is a native of Wichita.
“I was in high school when Jim Ryun was setting the world record in the mile (and the 800 and 1,500 meters) and was going to the Olympics,” Cady explained. “He went to KU to run and I saw him run there.”
Cady and her friends did do some jumping — on the football sidelines while serving as cheerleaders. And she enjoyed one shining moment on the track.
“I still have the blue ribbon from my grade-school 50-yard dash when I won first place,” she said proudly.
Inspiration in the infield
The lack of a competitive career has not stopped Cady from exerting her considerable influence on Maine’s high school track and field community.
For nearly three decades, she has been a fixture as a meet director and organizer for events in the Penobscot Valley Conference-Eastern Maine Indoor Track League and for a handful of area high schools as well as youth summer events.
She also is a Master Certified Official for USA Track & Field and has directed Maine Principals’ Association championship meets.
“She’s very professional about the way she does things and has high expectations,” said former Brewer High School coach Dave Jeffrey, who now runs Brewer Timing Services.
“The bottom line is, she wants to have the absolutely best experience for our kids as she possibly can,” he said.
Last spring, Cady began to reduce her involvement as a meet director. That included handing over the reins at Orono High School, where she has run meets for 28 years.
“I never thought the day would come that she would stop directing meets for Orono High School,” said Red Riots coach Chris Libby.
“She’s one of the big reasons why things have been so good for eastern Maine kids in track and field,” he added.
Cady also relinquished responsibility for the PVC championship meets, instead serving as an assistant for her heir apparent, Sarah Shorette.
Never one to leave loose ends, Cady wants to make sure things will continue to run smoothly in her absence.
“As I said to (Orono athletic administrator) Mike Archer, do you want me to drop dead on a track some day and have nobody know how to do things, or wouldn’t it be better if I started training people and mentoring them and be there to answer questions?” she quipped.
Cady still enjoys directing meets and interacting with athletes, coaches and officials, but at 66 she knows a change is coming.
“It’s just time for other people around here to learn to do things,” Cady said.
Call of duty
Cady and husband Rob, who had met at Fort Riley in Kansas while in the Army, moved to Maine in 1983.
Three years later, she took a track and field officiating class through Orono Adult Education. She debuted as a meet director in 1988 when Orono High athletic administrator Nelson Beaudoin needed someone to run a meet.
“He handed me a score sheet, an order of events, a microphone and said, ‘you’re in charge.’”
The complexities of organizing and running a track meet meshed perfectly with Cady’s skill set. Turns out she likes being in charge.
“The military background didn’t hurt,” she said. “I’m organized, I pay attention to details and I know how to tell people what to do.
“Fortunately, microphones don’t bother me because I had done command briefings when I was in the Army,” added the former public affairs officer, who retired from the Army Reserves in 1995 as a Lieutenant Colonel.
Cady learned the nuances of track and field from area coaches, including Cliff McCormick, Jeffrey, Rod White and Glendon Rand.
“They were the ones who really helped me learn to be a good meet director,” she said.
Cady earned a reputation as a no-nonsense meet director who makes sure things are done right. She doesn’t allow mistakes or sloppy handling of situations negatively impact the athletes or the meet.
“She’s so precise,” said White, the longtime Old Town coach. “You don’t always agree with some of the things she says, but she’s usually right and the management of the meet is going to be perfect.”
Cady’s unmistakeable voice has been effective in getting the intended results, whether to shoo spectators out of the competition area or to beckon a coach for a discussion about a ruling or other situation.
“When she comes over that microphone and she says, ‘Chris Libby, please report to the officials table,’ that means I’m in deep crap, I’ve done something that has displeased her greatly,” Libby said with a laugh.
“Through that rough exterior is pretty much a softy, especially when it comes to kids,” Jeffrey said. “She barks, but she doesn’t bite very much.”
All for the kids
Cady’s efforts are geared toward making sure the athletes and coaches are able to concentrate on what they’re doing without having to worry about whether entries were logged properly, events are being judged correctly or that the meet is on schedule.
Many years ago, Cady received a thank-you note from former Sumner High School runner Parker Pruett, who went on to compete at Dartmouth College.
“He made a comment in there that, ‘when meets are run well, I run well and I thank you for running good meets,’” she recalled.
“I just want the kids to concentrate on their running and their jumping and their competition and not worry about how the meet is going or how it’s going to be run,” Cady added.
That is accomplished, she said, by building an extensive network of qualified and dedicated officials. It’s a group that includes many former area athletes.
“I’ve been very pleased with a lot of the young officials that we’re getting. It takes a lot of people to run a track meet and do it right,” said Cady, who also has hosted USATF officiating clinics in Orono for more than 10 years.
“You can guarantee when you go to a Mary Cady track meet that it’s going to be run very well, and that means it’s going to be efficient, it’s going to be fair, the rules interpretations are going to be done right,” Libby said.
One for the girls
For Cady, perhaps the most rewarding aspect of working track meets is watching the continued development of girls and women in the sport.
With sports not an option, Cady instead honed a talent as a markswoman and competed on the Kansas rifle team for three years. She was the Big 8 champion as a junior. It was that skill that opened the door to the Women’s Army Corps Student Officer Program and a career in the military.
Cady lives vicariously through PVC-EMITL athletes, many of whom have gone on to excel at the collegiate level.
“I think how far we’ve come and how advanced the girls are,” she said.
“I really just enjoy watching the girls and what they can accomplish and the records they set and all the events that they do,” Cady added.
Cady harkened back to days when Maine girls weren’t allowed to participate in the pole vault because of safety concerns. The EMITL then became the first league in Maine to let girls compete in the event.
“I’m going to finally admit it, kids. Pole vault is my favorite track event,” Cady said. “It’s just awesome to see what they’re doing.”
Cady is not stepping away from track completely. In addition to working for Brewer Timing Services handling entries and the Hy-Tek Meet Manager software, she is expected to return as the director of the PVC-EMITL and will continue to help out coaches as needed next spring.
She also takes entries and compiles the results for University of Maine home meets and is running some youth summer events.
“She’s just been amazing,” White said. “I’m hoping she keeps her foot in the door a little bit.”