By Paige Lilly, Contributing Writer
The UMF Athletics Department recently announced the start of its Racial Equity Committee (REC), which aims to create a safe environment where racially marginalized students can share their experiences while also working to make an impact here on campus. The REC announced its official presence on Monday in an Instagram post.
The group began soon after Molly Wilkie was named the UMF Athletics Diversity and Inclusion designee, a new role the NCAA now requires schools to have. As part of a group of people with this same designation at their respective Maine Division III (DIII) Universities, Wilkie realized that UMF was one of the few schools yet to have a group of this type. “I learned that many of the other schools had coalitions and groups specifically for their student athletes of color [the names of the groups are all slightly different],” Wilkie said in an email. “After learning about what other schools were doing I thought it was something vital that UMF athletics should be engaging in as well.”
Wilkie then reached out to a number of students-athletes who she thought may want to be a part of the group. “Molly emailed us and asked if it would be something we were interested in,” said Chloe Horn, a junior, field hockey player and a member of REC. “I believe she got the list of our names from our various coaches. Then we were able to set up our first meeting.”
Wilkie stressed the importance of student leaders like Horn in the success of the group thus far. “Although I am facilitating this group, it is all about the student-athlete leaders and working to support and amplify their voices and ideas,” said Wilkie.
The group aims to provide students who identify as non-white with a safe space to discuss their experiences. “Our group … wants to create a safe space for racially marginalized student-athletes for support and advocacy,” Wilkie said. “The group also wants to play a role in helping to educate about and identify the racial inequities that exist on our campus.”
“It’s the start of a conversation many students here don’t realize needs to be had,” said sophomore Mullein Francis, who is a nordic skier for UMF and a member of REC. “Because we all go to a school that is mostly white, I think a lot of people think, ‘Oh, it’s rural Maine, we don’t have to worry about that here,’ but in reality we do,” said Francis. “There are a lot of people here who deal with this kind of thing, and it’s good to be able to talk about it with people who understand.”
In fact, it’s that understanding that sparked the friendship between Horn and Francis. “We didn’t know each other before the group, it kind of started our friendship,” Horn said, sharing a laugh with Francis.
In that way, they believe the group is already beginning to be successful in bringing students who identify as non-white together, but they won’t stop there. “We have a lot of big goals,” said Francis. “We are thinking about eventually hopefully having a system where we can include other students as well, not just student athletes.”
However, Francis and Horn both agreed that the group needs a strong foundation before they can move to that goal. “We’re so ambitious, but we know that if we get too excited and try to move too fast it might hurt us in the long run. We know we need to build the group so that it’s strong, doing little events before big ones,” said Horn. In these efforts, these student-athletes believe they will be able to start an important conversation that lasts even after they graduate from UMF.
Any questions about REC should be brought to their Instagram account @umf_rec or emailed to Molly Wilkie at email@example.com.
By Devin Lachapelle – Contributing Writer
As the fall semester nears its midpoint, student-athletes at UMF say that they’re able to balance demanding coursework with busy sports schedules thanks to hard work, effective time management and the help of friends and coaches.
Gwen Baker, a junior and member of the women’s cross country team, said that strong time management skills are extremely important for student-athletes given their often-crowded schedules.
“I like to joke that I don’t exist on Tuesdays; I’m busy from 5:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., with only a small break in the afternoon,” she said with a laugh. Baker then said, “It’s been a process to learn how to be organized as an athlete. I’ve been very organized because I’ve had to be.”
Michael Pingree, also a junior and a goalkeeper for the men’s soccer team, said that student-athletes often have to make difficult decisions in an effort to not get behind on schoolwork.
“You have to make tough choices and say no,” he said, “whether it be going out of town or going out one night, just because you have a game the next morning.”
Pingree stressed the importance of having a supportive group of friends to help stay motivated. “During the season, you have to have a friend group to keep everything balanced,” Pingree said. “You can really burn yourself out. To have a peer group that you can talk to about it or hang out with really helps.”
Junior and field hockey player Chelsea Ballard mentioned that her game schedule occasionally interferes with her classes. “Sometimes if I have a game on a Tuesday or Thursday night I’ll miss my Social Studies Methods class. We often leave early [for games], so I would miss my Public Writing class as well,” she said.
Ballard went on to describe the steps student-athletes have to take before any planned absences can take place. “Our coach has to sign off on a letter that tells the professor why we’re missing,” Ballard said. “Still, some professors don’t like it when we miss class.”
Ballard, like Baker, credits organization as the key to academic success for students with limited free time. “[Field hockey] takes away from my homework time,” she said. “Being both a student and an athlete, I have learned extremely good time management skills. I’m often going from one thing to another so I have to make sure I have everything organized and set up so I can make the smooth transition.”
Baker, whose athletic schedule also conflicts with her school schedule, stated that while her coaches try to maintain consistent practice times that work for most students, the coaches are flexible and do not penalize players when they do have to miss practice because of classes.
Gwen Baker (Left) competes against an opponent from Saint Josephs College (Right) during the UMF Invitational at Mt Blue High School in early September. (Photo Courtesy of C.J. Jenkins)
“Practice is at 3:45, which is usually a happy medium for everyone. I can’t run until after practice because I have Journalism then,” Baker said. “Coach knows I’ll still do the workout on my own.”
Moninda Marube, an assistant cross country coach at UMF since fall of 2016, agreed that coaches try to adapt to the needs of individual students.
“We work with their professors to ensure that classes do not fall on our training schedule or if they do, we always figure out how a student would best get their workout without missing a class.”
Marube emphasized that the key to academic and sports success was having players trust and support one another. “We have not had cases of students burning out yet,” he said. “We have caring team members who always seek to help each other to stand strong in their weak points.” Marube continued, “We have a great team chemistry and we address each member of our team at a personal level.”
Pingree and Baker both cited physical fatigue as a consistent challenge for student-athletes. Pingree said, “The biggest thing is how tired you are every day. You get home from practice, make dinner, shower, and by that time it’s already 7:00. The physical amount of preparation that goes into [sports] is the hardest thing for people to realize.” Baker said, “I’m usually exhausted coming home from weekend meets.”
Chris Strople, an Assistant Professor of Education at UMF, is the academic advisor to several varsity athletes. Professor Strople noted that student-athletes can be at risk of getting overwhelmed.
“Getting burned out by the high workload is certainly a concern,” he said. “I emphasize the importance of maintaining a balance . . . That balance is not universally achieved and so it often will be different depending on the person.”
Professor Strople, a former Division I water polo player at Loyola Marymount University, noted how important it is for student-athletes to have a support system in place. “I do have first-hand experience with the challenge of balancing the responsibilities of both athletics and academics . . . It’s not easy for anyone with the challenge of finding a balance between the two, so I would encourage them to communicate with their teammates, coaches, classmates, and professors for support when needed,” he said.
Baker, Pingree, Ballard, and Professor Strople all agreed that, despite the challenges faced by student-athletes, the connections made are well worth the effort.
“It’s not always about winning or losing,” said Professor Strople, “but often about the friendships built while working toward a collective goal.”
The women’s cross country team heads to Colby College for a meet on Friday, Oct. 6th at 4:00. A day later, the field hockey team will face off against New England College at 2:00 and the men’s soccer team will battle Green Mountain College at 3:30, both at home.
For more detailed information about the fall sports schedules, including schedules of sports not listed here, visit http://athletics.umf.maine.edu/landing/index.