Nike’s recent announcement that it will donate $1 million toward an all-weather track and field at Freeport High School in Joan Benoit Samuelson’s name marks the second time that the company has tried to help build a track in Freeport.

Though the first attempt failed when the Army Corps of Engineers – which was scheduled to do the site work – was called off to war in Iraq, the effort did result in an agreement that allowed Freeport High athletes to use the outdoor and indoor tracks at Bowdoin College for practice. The Bowdoin outdoor track, co-named for Samuelson and John Joseph Magee, was rebuilt in 2005 after the proposed Freeport project fell through. Nike had offered to honor Samuelson, a Bowdoin graduate and winner of the inaugural 1984 Olympic women’s marathon, by helping to build the new track in her hometown of Freeport.

Craig Sickels, longtime athletic administrator at Freeport High School, was involved in the 2002 project. Bob Lyman, Freeport’s school superintendent at the time, played a lead role, Sickels said. The town also was involved, he said.

“Nike’s donation was the top layer of Nike Grind surface,” Sickels said. “The sitework was not donated, but the Army Corps of Engineers offered to do that.”

Nike Grind is made from ground-up running shoes. Only two schools in the state, Bowdoin and Lincoln Academy, use Nike Grind, while others use pelletized tires for their synthetic turf infill.

Sickels recalled that someone had donated land near Mast Landing School to the town, but the Maine Department of Environmental Protection determined that runoff from the facility would roll into the nearby Harraseeket River.

“The town went back to the donors and asked if it could sell the land for house lots, and use the money for a field elsewhere, and they said yes,” Sickels said. “Town funds, Nike and the Army Corps of Engineers would have been used. But the war in Iraq broke out and they lost a large amount of funding. That is when Bowdoin came in and helped us out.”

Sickels said that Nike, Bowdoin and the Freeport School Department entered into a 20-year agreement that allowed Freeport High use of both the Bowdoin outdoor and indoor tracks for training. The agreement expires on June 30, 2024.

“Even if this new track is built,” Sickels said, “we would still need the indoor facility.”

Sickels has attended board meetings of the Tri-Town Track and Field Project, which announced last week that Nike has agreed to donate the $1 million for the synthetic turf and field proposed at Freeport High School. The group says it has raised about $2 million of the $3.2 million it will need to build the field and eight-lane track, a project that must be approved by Regional School Unit 5 residents in a referendum.

“I am always optimistic,” Sickels said.

The Jack Magee-Joan Benoit Samuelson Track surrounds the football field at Bowdoin College.

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