Patiently awaiting the Golden Years

Bush league and Busch beer

By Randall Poulton | Feb 01, 2019

In 1973, I contemplated playing football at the University of Maine. I was a pretty good player in high school, but my tall, skinny physique was not ideal for the rigors of college football.

The coach told me, to be successful, I would need to spend a lot of time in the weight room. I was on the fence, in part because football practice would put a big dent in my beer drinking time.

The clincher for me was the questionnaire that all aspiring athletes were required to fill out. There was one question in particular that convinced me to say no thanks to football: “Have you ever passed blood in your urine (piss)?”

Holy Toledo, Batman! (Remember this was the 1970s and we said stuff like this.) I would be playing a brutal game against students who might well not know the meaning of the word “urine”? Yikes!

I went on to graduate from, and then work at, “The University of Maine at Orono.” I also went on to drink a lot of Busch beer (although I was not all that choosey). If I remember correctly, at one time I might have listed my official residence as the Oronoka “restaurant.” Those were the days.

As an alum, I have kept track of the athletic “goings on” at UMaine. What I am seeing is troubling. Let’s start with football.

This year’s team was very talented. Their young coach, Joe Harasymiak, had the Bears playing an entertaining game ― stifling “black hole” defense and big plays on offense. UMaine won 10 games, earning the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) conference title and a seven seed in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs. For the first time ever, Maine won two playoff games and made it to the FCS final four.

Yet, despite this tremendous success, attendance at home games was mediocre at best. Two of the four regular season home games took place when students were not even on campus (one game was played in late summer before classes started and another during fall vacation). That is bush league scheduling.

But that is only the beginning: If you want a beer at Alfond Stadium, you have to take a nice long walk to the “beer garden” located behind the end zone and stay there while you drink it. Bush league.

Should you then need to answer the call of nature (drinking beer sometimes has that effect on people), you’d better allow time for the walk back to the facilities under the grandstand. There are no restrooms inside the “beer garden.” Bush league. Want something to eat? Take another walk and wait in another line. Bush league.

Want to watch the Black Bears on TV? You better have ESPN3 ― whatever that is. If all else fails, you can probably listen to the game on the radio. The announcers speak in platitudes and are consummate “homers.” But, if you really use your imagination, you just might be able to figure out what is going on down on the field.

And that fantastic young coach who led the Bears deep into the playoffs? He couldn’t get out of town fast enough. Harasymiak said goodbye to his team via email and headed to Minnesota. At $153,000 per year, Harasymiak was the lowest-paid coach in the CAA. The average pay for a football coach in the CAA is $360,000.

In other words, Maine paid its football coach less than half the average! Bush league.

So, who is getting the big bucks at UMaine? With a base salary of $220,000 a year, hockey coach Red Gendron is the fourth-highest-paid employee on the university’s payroll.

In the six years that Gendron has led the Bears, they are 20 games under .500 with no conference titles and sagging attendance. Maine hockey has disappeared from national prominence while the coach gets rich.

And then there is the baseball team. While you are sitting in the cold, reading my bush league rant, the UMaine baseball team is packing up for its annual trip south. Yup, Maine joins the Red Sox for an extended “spring training” in the sun while you freeze your fanny off here in Maine.

Why Maine continues to field a baseball team and play a 55-game schedule is puzzling. Despite their extensive spring training, Maine has lost 98 games in the last three years, including a dismal 1-18 record on their opponents’ field in 2017.

Just like the hockey program, Maine baseball was once a national power, racking up five trips to the College World Series in the 1980s. Now the team plays before some of the fanciest empty seats in their league.

And that brings us to the men’s basketball team. What a mess! Maine’s best season was back in 1959. They have never won their conference and never qualified for the “Big Dance,” aka the NCAA March Madness Tournament. Last year they finished in eighth place.

So far this year, they are 3-15. Their “home court” is in Bangor and perhaps that is why attendance at games is an embarrassment. Like the baseball team, they, too, play in front of mostly empty seats. But, on the bright side, the Cross Center has plenty of bathrooms!

And here is what makes the dismal performance of the hockey and basketball teams all the more irritating: The players are not from Maine! Hell, three-quarters of the players on the basketball team and 10 of the skaters on the hockey team are not even from the United States!

Students on these two “Maine” teams hail from Sweden, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Slovakia, Ukraine, Brazil, Serbia, Taiwan, Latvia, Croatia, Lebanon and Nigeria. This demographic does not represent Maine and makes it even harder to endure the endless losing.

Can’t we do just as well with a bunch of Maine kids? At least there would be local friends and families in the seats!

This month’s did you know: The University of Maine system is made up of seven separate universities located in Orono, Augusta, Farmington, Fort Kent, Machias, Presque Isle and the University of Southern Maine (USM’s “campus” has its buildings in Portland, Gorham and Lewiston!).

From time to time, the powers that be change the names of these universities, possibly to distract alums from the dismal performance of certain athletic teams. My current favorite is the University of Maine at Augusta, Bangor Campus. Only an academic institution could dream up a name so convoluted that you are left wondering where you are. Bush league!

Randall Poulton lives in Winterport. His columns appear every other week in The Republican Journal.


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