The Mike Kessock Field, the home of the University of Maine softball team since 2001, is receiving renovations this March to serve future softball players in their journey to victory. Despite my excitement with this news, my complaint is why it took this long to renovate this bland, ordinary Division 1 field.
Division I is the highest level of collegiate athletics authorized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). With this honor, there is more intense competition, higher scholarship opportunities and better resources/facilities to support their athletes. UMaine is the only Division I school in the state of Maine, and despite this there are clear disparities between the men’s and women’s facilities. Unfortunately, this issue goes way beyond UMaine.
Last year, during the March Madness tournaments, Oregon Ducks basketball player Sedona Prince released a video to social media showcasing the weight room provided by the NCAA to the women’s teams. The women received a couple of yoga mats and a small rack of dumbbells placed in a room appearing the size of a custodial closet. There was a stark contrast to what the NCAA provided the men. The men had a gym that was comparable to the size of a Planet Fitness. with multiple racks of dumbbells and rows of benches and barbells. For the NCAA to think this was acceptable is absolutely horrific. How are people supposed to take women’s sports seriously when they will not even provide similar commodities for each team?
With the release of this video, many student athletes expressed their dissatisfaction and disgust, many sharing similar experiences they’ve experienced. Women have overcome many barriers and are constantly having to prove their worth in male spaces. For UMaine, female athletes/teams (softball, field hockey and soccer) are only now getting new facilities to match the grandeur of the male sports facilities, thanks to the Alfond Grant.
Despite its imperfections, Kessock Field will always have a special place in my heart. I played softball for four years on that field. Needless to say, it was not perfect. Like any new home there may be issues, but you either learn to get used to them or find someone to fix them. But fixing these issues seemed like an impossible solution. That option always felt out of reach, as if it would take a miracle to get anything changed. The crushing reality was that we saw living examples day to day of what money and care could produce within a sports facility. We knew what UMaine was capable of creating. Our wants and needs seemed not to matter in the scope of all athletic activities. Softball needed lights on our field. We wanted indoor batting cages to put in extra work outside of practice. We wanted a turf field so we did not have to practice on grass that was either dead and dry from the winter or muddy from the rain. The men’s baseball team has never had to worry about any of these things because they have all of these amenities already. It is never a problem for them. Despite softball and baseball being similar sports with slightly different rules, it is jarring to notice how different the facilities were. Kessock field looked out of place compared to the other sports facilities. It looked outdated and in dire need of an upgrade. It most definitely did not look like it was a field fit for a Division I team.
For me, it is a matter of respect. If we are given the bare minimum and no one complains, is there really an issue? The sheer fact that it took student athletes like Prince to point out the differences between how men and women’s teams are being treated is a problem. Even if Prince had never posted that video and no one thought about the disparities between male and female athletics, shouldn’t pride and respect be reason enough to renovate a field? As stated before, UMaine is the only Division I institution in the state. Shouldn’t that fact stir up immense pride in UMaine’s Athletics? Not one facility should look out of date. Not one athlete should feel that their program is an afterthought.
I remember traveling to Husson University to play a few games during the fall season and instantly feeling envious because their field looked refreshing compared to our own. I feel that a facility reflects the team it belongs to. First impressions are everything. I remember wanting the away team we were competing against to take a step off their bus, look at our field and get a sense of worry.
Kessock Field should have been renovated a long time ago. Although the argument often stated is that male athletes generate more profit and have a wider fanbase, there is no excuse for why that correlates to the condition of respective equipment, uniforms and facilities. In fact, the Women’s College World Series drew in more viewership than the Men’s World Series game this year, averaging to 1.7 million views. And even with this popularity, the women’s stadium did not have any showers, and on top of this, the games were compactly scheduled. The men had more down time, with access to showers and massages. There is no reason why at the Division I level, female athletes should feel that their needs are not important. Without their female athletes, the NCAA, as well as their respective schools, would have no business. All female student athletes are valuable and deserve just as much attention and respect as male athletes.
The best way for any team to win is to have access to all of the tools needed to help them succeed. That includes adequate time and space to practice, functional equipment and a network of people the athletes can confide in. It is important that athletes, as they devote hours and energy to the sport they love, feel love in return from the school that recruited them. No athlete or team should have to feel obsolete in comparison to another. I am very proud of UMaine for seeing and hearing their female athletes. The new softball facility will be a turf field, with lights lining the perimeter. It will have spacious dugouts, with internal heating for the cold days, as well as bathrooms. It will host indoor batting cages, an improved media room and new coach offices. Dreams and wishes have accumulated from decades of players rotating throughout the program, and finally, in March 2023, all those dreams will come true.