On May 5, another group of University of Maine seniors will take that celebrated walk from the Field House to the Alfond Arena, receive their diplomas and embark into world that lies ahead.
At the same time, a group of America East track and field athletes will arrive on campus, preparing for long jumps, sprints and throws in the annual America East Championships.
The timing seems unfortunate, not only for seniors participating in both events but for UMaine parking services, the athletic department and thousands of spectators.
“It’s something we’re used to handling, but it’s hard,” said UMaine Athletic Director Steve Abbott. “That’s their set weekend for the championship, then it rotates amongst the institutions interested in hosting it.”
However complicated, this situation isn’t new to the university. Baseball and softball games have been played on the same day as graduation on multiple occasions.
“To give you an example, the home [men’s hockey] weekend against Merrimack College was the same week as the [Eastern Maine] Sportsmen’s [S]how, which draws a huge crowd as well. It’s the kind of thing we’ve done before, but it taxes everybody,” Abbott said.
Director of Parking Services Alan Stormann is no stranger to commencement, helping coordinate 30 in his time at UMaine. With the added element of a conference track meet, Stormann stressed communication.
“The Athletic Department and us work hand in hand in these sporting events. Like the America East meet, we sit down and talk about the challenges,” he said. “We evaluate what our parking situation is, and on that particular day with graduation going on, there’s the potential to have 10 to 15 thousand people coming and going off campus that day.
“It certainly does stress things. But we get creative.”
The creativity Stormann speaks of, most notably, is a shuttle system that is implemented to transfer guests for either event from various parking lots throughout campus to the Alfond or Memorial Gym.
“They’re given priority by all the police officers because they’re mass transportation,” Stormann said. “We know on that particular day, on the Hilltop Lot for example the back section will not be full. We have a lot of room of there by the Rec Center. We’ll direct all the America East people up there.”
Also helping ease the strain is the fact that most of the track meet spectators aren’t expected until the award ceremony on Sunday.
“As I understand it, Saturday won’t be as intense as Sunday,” Stormann said. “Saturday will be light. There won’t be a lot of spectators.”
An added complication the coinciding events cause is the personnel used. With graduation taking place in two buildings primarily used for athletics, that department is called on to help out with commencement.
“Another reason it’s taxing is a number of the athletic personnel help out with graduation, with it being at Alfond Arena and the march starting at the Field House,” Abbott said. “The athletic people are instrumental in helping out the president’s office.”
A silver lining, according to Abbott is the fact that because commencement is taking place in the backdrop of the track meet, some UMaine seniors may be able to participate in both events.
“This is a conflict we have every year. In this case, it may help some of these track athletes,” Abbott said. “With the timing of their events, they may be able to participate in their graduation.”
It was also that closeness in proximity that caused minor problems in the past. With announcements constantly blaring over multiple loud speakers at the America East track meet, there have been issues in the past with the sound disrupting commencement speakers.
However, with the improvements made to the Alfond in the fall, the updated heating, ventilation and air conditioning system should take care of those quarrels.
“I expect a wonderful day,” Stormann said. “I haven’t seen a bad commencement, and I’ve been to 30 of them.”