ELLSWORTH – It was the 1997-98 season. Alfond Arena was nearly full of boisterous, excited fans. Suddenly, a unified gasp — and then absolute quiet. Cindy Blodgett was down on the court and in pain.

Slowly, a concerned murmur followed by quiet applause occurred as she rose with assistance to limp to the bench.

A few weeks of treatment and rest kept her away from the game she loved, but she came back and completed her college career as the greatest Maine basketball player of all time.

Despite missing those games, her career point total at Maine was a remarkable 3,005, third in the history of Division I collegiate women’s basketball.

Holding many UMaine basketball records, she moved on as a player in the professional WNBA as well as in Europe and Asia. She obtained extensive basketball knowledge and made top-level contacts throughout the country and beyond.

Her basketball knowledge and passion rightfully took her to the coaching profession.

With assignments in coaching and recruiting at Boston University and Brown University under her belt, she was certainly ready for the next challenge. Her alma mater called and she accepted a very big challenge.

The UMaine program over several previous years had fallen into an abyss. Energy and quality recruiting had to be recovered. A culture with honesty and passion for women’s basketball had to be restored. This could only be done by years of hard work and unified dedication.

But she did it. She restored great honesty and character in players, coaches and fans. She re-energized the Friends of Maine Women’s Basketball support group. Decay in the fan base that had occurred in previous years was curtailed. Honor returned.

Great rapport, unity and trust with the players were restored. More favorable recruiting was developed under inherited difficult circumstances. Although improvement in the win-loss column remained stressed by a number of injuries to key players, recruitment was gradually presenting great opportunities for eventual success.

Prospects for the 2011-12 season were particularly promising. With a base of several talented and experienced players developed in her first years coupled with the best recruited class yet of freshmen, the anticipation for next season was exciting.

The hard work, dedication, determination and character modeled by the coach and displayed by players and coaches posed the best promise for UMaine women’s basketball in the past eight to 10 years.

Suddenly, a very uninformed and erroneous decision was made by the athletic director to terminate the coaching contract of our leader. I could not believe it. I had closely observed all her very hard work, a rebuilt culture and character in the team, and had seen firsthand the practices, instruction and training groundwork.

I knew that the W-L problem had largely occurred as an unavoidable result of years preceding Coach Blodgett coupled with uncontrollable, prolonged and unfortunate injuries. Injuries certainly were not related to poor conditioning or training abuse. Cindy had recruited many outstanding new freshmen for next season.

The strong possibility of an additional recruit with All-American status was known to the athletic department. The final favorable decision by this athlete came to fruition about two days after the public dismissal announcement.

It was quickly changed when knowledge of the action of the athletic director became known to the prospect. What a shame to lose our first All-American player in years. For me, the announcement of Coach Blodgett’s dismissal was a repeat of the gasp and unbelievable silence that overcame Alfond Arena more than 12 years ago.

The entire board of Friends of Maine Women’s Basketball was shocked and saddened. I believe the callous, uninformed and disrespectful decision will be regretted for years to come. With Coach B’s legend, her honor, her very hard work ethic and undeniable dedication to the university, a glorious new chapter in women’s sport was possible and at hand.

Why just throw this away? Why was her offer and promise for a significantly improved W-L column for 2011-12 (“or I will voluntarily move on”) not taken for the betterment of all?

I delivered a letter to the athletic director with a copy to the president within two days of the announcement. I have had no replies of any kind.

In good conscience I now cannot proceed with my association, efforts and support for the UMaine women’s basketball program that I have enjoyed for many years.

For me, Alfond Arena has gasped again and is again sad and silent. Cindy will always be our great and highly respected champion. She did a great job.

— Special to The Press Herald