Thank you, Maine!

On behalf of the Black Bear men’s ice hockey team, women’s basketball team and all our University of Maine student-athletes and coaches, the support from this state this season and postseason has been simply extraordinary.

It was also a reminder of the power of sports to excite. To unite. And to light up those long, dark nights of our cold Maine winters.

As a lifelong mathematics educator and researcher, I admit that when I was appointed to lead UMaine and its regional campus in Machias in 2018, I did not know I would enjoy attending athletic events and cheering on our outstanding student-athletes so much.

It’s become one of my favorite activities as president. To experience the way Maine has shown up for our teams has been humbling, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Men’s ice hockey packed the Alfond Arena 10 times, leading the league in sell-out games. Thousands of you, including Gov. Janet Mills, made the trip to TD Garden for the Hockey East semifinals, seemingly outnumbering fans of local Boston University. And less than one week later, many of you made it to Springfield, Massachusetts, to support men’s ice hockey and Coach Ben Barr in their first appearance in an NCAA tournament in 12 years.


When our America East champion women’s basketball team, coached by Cony High School and UMaine alumna Amy Vachon, took on Indiana University in November, nearly 6,000 fans filled Portland’s Cross Insurance Arena – making it among the most well-attended women’s sporting events in state history. The Black Bears led the Hoosiers and Gorham native Mackenzie Holmes into the thrilling third quarter. Many in the stands were young women and girls, who left with new role models and dreams for what their futures could be.

I’ve especially loved seeing the videos of local elementary assemblies, like those at Veazie Community School, where students shout their best wishes for the Black Bears till the rafters ring. I hope they also know that 10 of our teams earned their highest cumulative semester grade point average in 35 years this fall, or tied it, led by women’s basketball with a 3.88 GPA.

As the state’s only NCAA Division 1 program, we at UMaine take seriously our responsibility to promote excellence, opportunity and inclusion through athletics.

Major funding from the Harold Alfond Foundation will enable us to deliver on that promise, transforming facilities to improve access, equity and the experience of our fans, student-athletes and local youth. So too will a recent large gift from New Balance Athletics. Additionally, Sen. Susan Collins, vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Angus King, just secured $2.15 million to improve Alfond Arena accessibility.

Some have questioned whether significant spending on athletic facilities and coaches is appropriate when we have such need across our university and the University of Maine System, including to modernize classrooms, research labs and residence halls. We are working hard to improve that important infrastructure too, and are grateful to public, private and philanthropic partners in those efforts.

The successful seasons of Black Bear teams, including men’s hockey and women’s basketball this winter and America East champion women’s soccer and men’s baseball last year, have helped generate interest and investment in our university that we have not seen since the 1990s. This builds upon other notable recent UMaine achievements, including the opening of the world-class Ferland Engineering Education and Design Center, development of the first 3D-printed home made entirely of bio-based materials, and attainment of R1 Carnegie Classification, putting Maine’s flagship among the nation’s top 146 high-performing research universities. We are getting ahead because you are behind us.

As a public university, we couldn’t afford to pay for the positive exposure our teams are getting on local and national media, including ESPN.

Game attendance is up. So is the number of students admitted and committed for the coming fall. All of this makes our campus and community more vibrant, and attracts new talent and investment. When the Black Bears come to play, Maine wins.

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