BANGOR, Maine — Last week, Eastern Maine Community College President Larry Barrett announced that the school has suspended athletics for 2015-2016.
He cited low participation among students, the cost of running the programs and concerns about the school’s athletic facilities in putting athletics on hiatus.
While school officials pointed to the hope of bringing athletics back — after careful study and discussion about how they fit into the school’s mission — there is an understandable fear in the community the Golden Eagles will fly no more.
EMCC faces a difficult challenge in sustaining athletics. Students attend for only one or two years as part of certification and associate’s degree programs. Some move on to jobs, while others transfer their credits to a four-year institution and continue working toward a degree.
Even though the school boasts an enrollment of more than 4,000, the majority of those students are commuting to campus while working their educational pursuits around jobs and/or families.
Thus, EMCC coaches not only often have a difficult time identifying prospective student-athletes, but struggle to keep them on team rosters.
Most athletes at the level sponsored by the Yankee Small College Conference and the United States Collegiate Athletic Association are playing for the love of the game. There are no athletic scholarships at EMCC.
School officials pointed out that only 68 students were involved in athletics this year. With basketball the exception, many teams were unable to attract or retain enough athletes to compete during 2014-2015.
It would seem that from a student body of 4,000, EMCC should be able to find plenty of former high school athletes, and a few others with athletic prowess, to field teams. The college has offered some of the most popular high school sports — basketball, soccer, softball and baseball — along with cross country, golf and even bowling.
However, according to Fred Ashmore, the Golden Eagles’ most recent head women’s basketball coach and a former member of the men’s basketball staff, the state of EMCC’s facilities are cause enough to question its commitment to athletics.
Ashmore explained that aging Johnston Gym, EMCC’s basketball home, is run-down and outdated. Key issues include inadequate restrooms and locker room facilities.
The soccer fields located adjacent to the gym are playable, but the college was forced to rent other facilities in the area for baseball and softball events.
Ashmore reasoned that students who want to participate in athletics often lose their enthusiasm when they show up and see that facilities and equipment are in disrepair.
It is a shame that EMCC has come to the point of suspending athletics. Those activities should be part of a viable community college experience, which appears to be the case at places such as Central Maine Community College in Auburn and Southern Maine Community College in South Portland.
For many EMCC students, their only chance to continue participating in competitive athletics was through the school’s varsity programs.
School officials indicated that in addition to reviewing athletics, EMCC will be exploring more campus recreational activities, intramural sports and general wellness programs that might appeal to a larger cross-section of the student body.
At this point, the future of EMCC athletics appears to be in serious jeopardy, but if the school is not willing or able to fully commit to varsity programs through dynamic leadership, more financial resources and improved facilities, EMCC should pull the plug permanently.