The new uniforms arrived Wednesday, the day after the new snowmobile and grooming attachment laid down their first sugary-smooth tracks across Riverside Golf Course.

More than two dozen high school skiers skated and poled their way through a series of intervals on a chilly afternoon while nearby, closer to the clubhouse, twice as many skiers from Portland’s three middle schools scooted about without poles.

Things are looking up for the Nordic ski teams of Portland, which for the first time will be competing as one entity in the eyes of the Maine Principals’ Association.

“The kids are very excited about it,” said George Aponte Clarke, in his second year as head coach after moving up from the middle school program.

Indeed, Robby Sheils of Portland and Grace Tumavicus of Deering are the only two seniors for a team that includes 12 boys and 16 girls from Portland, Deering, Cheverus and Casco Bay high schools. Naturally, Sheils and Tumavicus are the captains.

Last winter, the only Portland teams to muster the four skiers necessary to score at the Class A state meet were the Deering girls and Portland boys. Deering finished second by one point to Fryeburg Academy and Portland was fourth behind Mt. Blue, Falmouth and Leavitt.

Had the one Portland High girl and the two Deering boys been scored along with their fellow city school, however, both state titles would have belonged to a combined Portland/Deering squad.

“So it’s going to change our placing a lot,” Sheils said. “We’re pretty good on numbers this year. We actually have more kids than last year.”

“Skiing (in the city) has really gone through ebbs and flows,” said Tumavicus, who was runner-up in the Class A classical race last February. “My freshman year we had five (skiers), and then it dwindled. Now it’s just us two (in the senior class), but then we have 15 freshmen on the team. So it’s fun to see the atmosphere growing.”

While it makes perfect sense to Sheils and Tumavicus that skiers who practice as a group, give rides to each other and have team dinners together would also compete as a team, not every opposing coach is thrilled with the MPA’s approval of a cooperative squad able to draw upon a combined enrollment of more than 2,500 students. The next-largest school competing in Nordic skiing is Bangor at 1,129.

Cooperative teams often are justified by the MPA in areas where a program is struggling for numbers and at risk of disbanding. Portland Nordic – the not-for-profit ski club that raised $15,000 for a new state-of-the-art groomer and snowmobile, and oversees a program that starts with second-graders in Saturday morning Bill Koch Ski Leagues – for the first time instituted a waiting list for middle school skiers because, as Aponte Clarke said, “We have as many as can fit on a bus.”

“The enthusiasm from that (unified) middle school program has carried up this year,” Aponte Clarke said. “A lot of these kids are being exposed to the program at an early age. They fall in love with (skiing) and want to continue.”

Sheils and Tumavicus helped design the team’s new uniforms, along with Portland High junior Elizabeth Thomas. The racing suits incorporate the navy blue of Portland and Casco Bay, the purple of Deering and Cheverus, and the gold of Cheverus.

As for a nickname, some combination of Bulldogs, Rams and Stags seemed too cumbersome, so Tumavicus and Sheils drew upon the sobriquet of the team’s best skier – Portland junior Liam Niles – and a popular classical race in Bethel. Niles is the defending champion of both Class A pursuit and the Sassi Memorial classical race, and is nicknamed Goose. The race in Bethel is the Flying Moose Classic.

“You combine them,” Sheils said, “and you get the Flying Geese.”

Does this mean, in lieu of traditional cowbells, parents and other trailside supporters will dispense with clanging and fill Maine’s woods with honking?

“We should do that,” Tumavicus said with a laugh. “We talked about, in mass start races, starting in a V (formation).”

Over the holiday break, 23 skiers from the high school team and 15 middle schoolers will migrate to Presque Isle for a five-day ski camp based at the Nordic Heritage Center. Next month, thanks to the new grooming equipment, the Portland Nordic team is scheduled to host a race at Riverside for the first time in the careers of its two seniors.

In February, the Class A Nordic state meet will be held at Stark’s Hill in Fryeburg. If opposing teams haven’t noticed by then, they ought to take heed of the Cheverus-inspired color stripes just below the knees of Portland’s Nordic racing uniforms and beware the Geese that bear the golden legs.

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or

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Twitter: GlennJordanPPH


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