FREEPORT — John Paterson goes by the new track and artificial surface playing field at Freeport High just about every day.

“Pretty much just to admire it,” he said. “I’m watching as they put the final details into place.”

On Friday, Freeport High will hold its first track meet at the pristine Joan Benoit Samuelson Track & Field. The 3:30 p.m. meet, against Lake Region, Old Orchard Beach, Yarmouth and Greater Portland Christian, will be preceded by a grand opening ceremony, with music, speeches, ribbon cutting and a jog around the new track with Samuelson, the Freeport resident and 1984 Olympic marathon gold medalist.

Paterson, co-chair of the Tri-Town Track and Field Project (a nonprofit organization formed to help fund the $4.5 million project), will be among the speakers.

“Anybody who sees it is thrilled by it, parents, community members,” he said. “And you can really see it by the kids. We had a record number of kids turn out for track … The kids are just feeling really good about what the facility says about how the community feels about our schools. This whole complex is now really first class.”

Eighty-eight students signed up for track this spring, almost three dozen more than last year. The team has never had a home track.

“It’s long overdue and well deserved,” said Matt Greear, who is in his fifth year as Freeport’s outdoor track coach. “I think it’s definitely a game changer for us.”

It has been a long time coming. Freeport Athletic Director Craig Sickels said initial conversations about adding a track began in 2002. He often told people that having a track was not a luxury, but quite common at schools across the state. But funding was always the issue. Three times voters failed to pass a referendum that would have funded the project.

After the third one, Tri-Town Track and Field Project was formed. Nike, the global athletic wear company that maintains close ties with Samuelson, provided a $1.35 million donation. Tri-Town raised another million.

Voters in Regional School Unit 5, which includes Freeport, Durham and Pownal, finally approved the artificial turf field and track project in January 2017. RSU 5 is funding $1.4 million. Another $760,000 was used from leftover funds in Freeport High’s renovation project. Paterson said the issue was never contentious, “just complicated.”

“It was nip and tuck for a while,” he said. “It wasn’t until Nike made its contribution that I felt we could do it.”

The Freeport track team no longer travels by bus to Bowdoin College in Brunswick for practices. Instead athletes can practice hurdles and jumps on a track that is about 150 feet from the high school gym.

“I think the biggest disadvantage (to not having a home track) was from a time standpoint,” said Greear. “We bused over to Bowdoin, had the track for an hour and 15 minutes, then bused back. So we spent a lot of time on the bus when we could have been practicing.”

The track, which is now black, still needs a final coating that will be applied later. It will give the track the traditional brick-colored look. But it is usable and the athletes on Freeport’s track teams can’t wait for Friday’s meet.

“It’s really nice just to have it,” said senior Griffin Agnese, who competes in hurdles and relays. “And I’m glad we got to use it during our high school career … I would have loved to have it earlier. But I’m glad we have it now.”

Senior Joe Ashby, who competes in the 800 and relays, said there’s sure to be a little nervousness Friday.

“First race on this track, you want to do well,” he said. “You want to show everyone that Freeport built this facility because we have a competitive team.”

And it should help the future. Senior Johanna Bogue-Marlowe, who competes in the 400 meters and relays, noted that middle school students are already practicing there. “We never had that before,” she said. “Starting that young and having that foundation of this being your home track will give you more pride in the school, the facility and the program.”

Freeport’s football, soccer, lacrosse and field hockey teams now will play their games on a synthetic turf field located inside the track. LED lighting surrounding the track will give the school the ability to play night games.

“It’s going to change the culture here,” Sickels said. “This is going to be a place to gather, these (games) are going to be community events.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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