Caitlyn Lyons has maximized her opportunities as a student-athlete at the University of Maine at Machias.
This summer, the biology major from Lubec has been preparing for a senior year when the two-time All-America basketball player hoped to lead the Clippers back to the national tournament. Lyons also was on track to eclipse 2,000 career points and achieve another Academic All-America honor on the way to earning her degree.
Her basketball goals may no longer be achievable. UMaine-Machias on Tuesday announced that it was suspending its varsity athletics programs for a minimum of three years.
“Honestly, I was heartbroken,” Lyons said.
“It definitely blindsided all of us.”
The announcement stunned UMaine-Machias athletes and staff alike.
“It’s a death sentence for athletics at UMM,” said Troy Alley, whose position as associate athletics director and the head coach of three sports was eliminated.
School and system officials said the move was made because of budget issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alley was invited Tuesday morning to join a Zoom meeting during which he was told of the decision. During that session, UMM student-athletes were informed about the development via email.
“I never expected this,” Alley, a Jonesport resident who spent the last five years working and coaching at the university, said. He served simultaneously as the head coach of both UMM basketball programs and also coached the men’s soccer team.
“These young men and women, they’re extremely upset,” he said. “They feel like they’ve been cheated.”
Matthew Kenna returned to Maine on Monday after spending the last four-plus months at his home in Titusville, Florida. He had left Machias to stay with his family during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kenna had no sooner signed a new lease on an apartment when he found out he no longer had a place to continue his basketball career while pursuing a degree in business.
“It definitely put people in an inconvenient spot, especially for a decision that was not made yesterday,” Kenna said.
“You don’t just wake up one day and say, ‘we’re going to cancel all of our athletics for a minimum three years and probably for good,’” he said. “I just think it was really inconsiderate.”
Tuesday was a day of disappointment and tears for the 29 people, including 26 student-athletes, who participated in a Zoom call with Alley once everyone had been told the news.
Many of them had feared that sports could be canceled for the first semester because of concerns surrounding COVID-19, but none anticipated seeing their programs eliminated.
“I just feel horrible for them,” Alley said. “They’re there [UMM] to get an education and a lot of them are using sports as a means to get an education. They’re the ones that are really losing out here because we didn’t give them a lot of notice.”
The UMM women’s basketball team had made back-to-back trips to the United States Collegiate Athletic Association Division II national tournament. Last winter, the Clippers were seeded sixth, but lost in the first round.
They were ranked as high as fourth last season in the national coaches poll.
“I’m still looking to win a national championship,” said Lyons, who attended Washington Academy in East Machias. “It wasn’t so much about me scoring my [2,000] points as it was being a successful team.”
The unexpected situation has left UMM athletes scrambling. Kenna said some members of the men’s basketball team, all of whom live out of state, are considering returning for the fall semester before transferring elsewhere.
Kenna is relieved that he was allowed to break his lease without a $1,000 penalty, but still doesn’t like the taste the situation left in his mouth.
“I like to be a man of my word,” Kenna said of signing the lease only to break it a day later.
“It’s not a spot I want to be in because it’s not really about who I am as a person.”
Kenna is among the former UMM athletes who are desperate to find somewhere to play next season, but there are many factors working against them. Not only is the school year scheduled to begin in about six weeks, roster spots have long since been filled in most college programs.
“It’s basically calling schools and calling coaches and trying to see what I can work out,” Kenna, who previously earned an associate’s degree in sports management from Southern Maine Community College in South Portland before attending UMM last year, said.
With opportunities likely to be scarce and COVID-19 limiting interpersonal interactions, he won’t be able to establish a rapport with a coach like he did with Alley before deciding to attend UMM.
“I’m sure it will work out, but I’m not comfortable with the fact that a year of my life, and a senior year of my college career, most likely is going to be thrown into the hands of somebody that I’ve had a 10-minute conversation with,” Kenna said.
Moving on also means leaving some good friends behind at UMM.
“I’m having to say bye to all the friends that I made, because I’m not going back,” Kenna said.
With her undergraduate degree almost within her grasp but basketball not an option at UMM, Lyons is weighing her options.
“I’m thinking to myself, do I give up my chances at a hall of fame career to just finish my degree at UMM and not play my final year, or do I do somewhere else, finish my degree and potentially score my 2,000 points?” she said.