Bean's Bearings: D3Week - The history of USM Student-Athlete Success, From Competition to Career

Bean's Bearings: D3Week - The history of USM Student-Athlete Success, From Competition to Career

Bean's Bearings - April 4, 2018 

As we approach NCAA Division III Week, it gives me occasion to reflect on the wonderful work and many significant contributions and accomplishments of our student-athletes and staff members.  Whether it is in the classroom, in competition or in the community, our student-athletes rise to the occasion and achieve at very high levels.  They accomplish all of this while balancing family, social life and part-time employment responsibilities.  It's rewarding to see the personal growth and development of each student-athlete as they move forward through their years at USM toward degree completion.  I'm especially proud of the many contributions they make in strengthening and building our learning community in Athletics.  In addition, I remain confident that USM student-athletes are prepared to succeed in life, and as alumni and representatives of the University, they will be leaders in their professions and in the communities where they live, work and serve.

There are so many great memories and accomplishments by our student-athletes each year that it's really hard to highlight some without mentioning others, however, some really are etched into your mind permanently.  Perhaps the greatest memories involve the baseball team winning the national championship in both 1991 and 1997 and returning home to huge gatherings of fans with parades, speeches and supporters lining the roads on the way back to Gorham from the Portland Jetport.  Those moments seem to live on in time and hold special memories for so many that were witness.

The greatest single event at USM has to be hosting the NCAA Final Four in women's basketball in 1998.  I've never been a part of anything like that in my life.  We found out on Sunday night that we would be hosting the Final Four the following Friday and Saturday at Hill Gym.  There was construction on both sides of the gym as the field house and ice arena were both under construction.  Tickets went on sale Wednesday at 10 a.m. and sold out in 40 minutes.  Our 1500 seat gymnasium had 2400 fans packed to the rooftop and the atmosphere in the building was truly electric.  The Huskies won game one to advance to the national championship game but lost in a very tight battle to Washington University the following night.  In spite of the loss, that experience sticks with me and so many as one of the greatest events and experiences in the history of our program.  Those who played would clearly agree.

The Huskies have a long history of success in competition in many sports.  Baseball has advanced to the NCAA College World Series eight times and once to the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho back in 1985.  Women's basketball played in the NCAA Final Four five times and played for the national championship three times.  They, too, also played in the NAIA National Championship in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1986.  Field hockey was the first two advance to the NCAA Final Four, traveling to William Smith College in Geneva, New York in 1985.  That team include a young and very talented freshman named Bonny Brown, the Huskies current head coach.  Men's basketball made the the trip in 1989 to participate in the NCAA Final Four at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio.

Prior to declaring post-season play in the NCAA, the Huskies played under the flag of the NAIA.  USM was among the dominant teams in NAIA District Five (New England) and sent countless teams to national championship competition.  Men's basketball and soccer each made several trips; soccer played one year in the Rose Bowl.  Men's hoop had their time at the Kemper Arena, both were incredible experiences for our student-athletes.  Men's tennis earned the trip, so did men's cross country. Men's ice hockey played in the NAIA National Championship as well in Minnesota and then came Softball in 1983 in Kearney, Nebraska.  We will honor that 1983 softball team on the 35thanniversary of their appearance at the national championship on April 28thon the field between softball games.    

In more recent years, the Huskies have continued their long history of success in baseball and women's basketball but new sports have emerged along with new heroes.  In 2015 and 2016, Daniel Del Gallo walked to the center of the stage at the NCAA Division III National Wrestling Championship and accepted the NCAA Elite 90 Award as the nation's very best student-athlete competing at the national level.  The following year, in 2017, Del Gallo climbed atop the podium at the national championship venue again, this time as the Huskies first-ever national champion in that sport.  His career was truly amazing.

Track standout Jamie Ruginski helped to put USM on the map in track and field.  Ruginski won four national championships for the Huskies, three in the triple jump and one in the long jump.  With his performances at the national championship, the Huskies finished 5thin the nation.  Peyton Dostie was the next to earn national championship honors, winning in the pentathlon for the Huskies.  Each year, the men's and women's programs continue to qualify top student-athletes for national competition and the women's program has dominated the Little East Conference and the New England Alliance for nearly two decades.

The vision, mission and goals of our department are quite clear. To summarize, we want our student-athletes to compete at the highest possible level and to develop their Full Potential in five areas:  athletic performance, academic achievement, personal development, career development and service to the community.  This is the short answer but there is much more to it.  We want our student-athletes to be prepared for a lifetime of success and we try to accomplish that in a number of ways involving a broad spectrum of opportunities.

Our Student-Athlete Advisory Committee represents all 22 of our intercollegiate sports and has student representation from all of those teams. USM has always had a reputation of doing great work with this group and, as a result, our SAAC has won 13 national awards for community service.  While service has been their most recognizable work, the members of this group represent all of the student-athletes in our program and provide a voice and an interface with administration.  

This group works with us to discuss legislation, bring important matters to the table, take on critical health and student-athlete welfare topics and works to provide service with and for many groups in the community. SAAC helps to organize and run the annual Community Halloween Party for the Town of Gorham, works very closely with Special Olympics Maine and this past year, many members of SAAC took part in a special program about civility and human rights delivered by Steve Wessler, former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Maine.  

All of our teams are involved with giving back in some way whether it be through fundraising events or simply raising awareness about cancer research, military appreciation, collecting food or toys for children and the less fortunate, the plight of the elderly and supporting local food banks and shelters.  We're very proud of the work they do and the awareness they have.

Last year, our student-athletes were part of and witness to some very significant events at USM.  We celebrated the 50thanniversary of women's sports at USM and had the architect of the program, Paula Hodgdon, with us for that important celebration.  Our current students had a role in that celebration and helped to bring the generations together to understand the beginnings of organized sport for women at USM and where it is today.

We dedicated a beautiful new softball stadium, one of the finest in the entire region, and we brought together former student-athletes to celebrate along with current players in a very special day.  That same weekend, we dedicated the baseball field to Ed Flaherty, the Huskies baseball coach who has brought great honor and distinction to the program and the University.  We also returned the 1997 baseball team on the 20thanniversary of their national championship.

With just six weeks left in the current academic year, we prepare for Honors Night, a special evening to acknowledge our completing senior student-athletes and their families.  This is an important tradition as we will provide not only senior awards, we will present special awards, the Paula D. Hodgdon Award and the Roland Wirths Memorial Award.  These awards are voted on by coaches and staff and hold special meaning.  We will also host our closing barbecue that gives us opportunity to gather as a community, talk, laugh and say goodbye for the summer. 

With our hearts and hands in the current year and an eye looking toward 2018-2019, we will hope for outstanding performances this spring. Baseball and softball have been to Florida and are into their northern schedule.  Both lacrosse programs are in full swing, along with tennis and the track teams are just kicking off competition.  As always, weather and field conditions are a challenge but hopefully winter has left us for good – we can only hope.  There is much promise for our teams and our individual performers and we hope for post-season play and the national stage.  

 We also begin to prepare in earnest for the following year, taking time to begin planning for the Husky Golf Classic, the 2018 Husky Hall of Fame banquet and induction ceremony and the William B. Wise Scholar-Athlete Awards program.  Last year 178 of our student-athletes qualified as scholar-athletes, a number that grows each year.  USM student-athletes have a higher graduation and retention rate than the overall student body at USM.

With our new leadership team in firmly in place at USM, there is much promise and a renewed excitement about the University.  Alumni are excited, the business community is on board, external support is growing and there are great plans for the University that will unfold in the years to come.  For the first time, USM Athletics is officially an important part of the plan to move the institution forward.  Look for great things to continue to happen at USM; this is going to be great for our student-athletes and staff and I'm so excited to be a part of the changes that are coming forward.

This year marks my 25thas Director of Athletics at USM.  As a two-time alum and a former baseball player I'm very proud to have served in this capacity and to have followed some true legends of intercollegiate athletics. I am fully aware that I have been blessed with many outstanding staff who care very deeply about our student-athletes.  They are fully committed to USM Athletics and I consider them consummate professionals. 

Just this past year alone, Head Athletic Trainer Matt Gerken has been inducted to the Eastern Athletic Trainers Hall of Fame and BL ELfring, Assistant Director of Athletics for Media Relations and NCAA Compliance, will be inducted to the Co-SIDA Hall of Fame in June.  Head Basketball Coach Samantha Allen was named by the WBCA to the Thirty Under 30 list that recognizes top up and coming talent in the sport of women's basketball.  Veteran baseball mentor and multiple hall of fame inductee Ed Flaherty, was selected by the NABC to help train the Irish National Team this past summer.  So many others have been honored for their work as well.

NCAA Division III Week has arrived and we will gather, student-athletes and staff alike, to talk sports, to celebrate, to share lunch, to discuss issues and concerns, and to talk about our dreams and the future of USM Athletics, and where we can go together if we all work hard and do our part. Go Huskies!