Nike pledges $1M for Freeport track, turf field

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FREEPORT — Nike has pledged $1 million for construction of an all-weather, eight-lane track and turf field at Freeport High School, a leader for the organization raising funds for the project announced in a press release Tuesday.

Fred Palmer, president of the Tri-Town Track and Field Project, said the track would be named for Joan Benoit Samuelson of Freeport, winner of the first women’s Olympic Marathon in 1984.

Nike’s gift, contingent on the group raising an additional $2.2 million, makes the company a key donor in a project whose mission is to privately raise $3.2 million to build the sports complex at Freeport High School.

The Tri-Town Track and Field Project is a nonprofit organization made up of members of the Regional School Unit 5 towns of Durham, Freeport and Pownal.

Earlier this month, the RSU 5 Board of Directors extended the group’s fundraising deadline to May. On Jan. 13, Palmer told the board the fundraising group had pledges and donations of $2 million.

The project also must be approved by RSU 5 residents in a referendum, in June or November.

The Tri-Town Track and Field Project is hoping to leverage $600,000 for the project that RSU 5 had planned to use for reconstruction of the grass fields at the school. That money is part of the $14.6 million approved by RSU 5 voters in November 2013 for a high school renovation.

The group has pointed out that Freeport is one of the only high schools without a track, and that synthetic turf is more durable than grass.

The project board approached Nike with the proposal to name the track for Samuelson in December, according to the press release. Samuelson, a Nike-sponsored athlete, has been actively engaged in discussions about the proposed project as an honorary member of the fundraising group. The board unanimously agreed to approach Samuelson and Nike with the donation and naming request.

The project board also intends to use Nike Grind – material made from Nike’s footwear manufacturing scrap – for the track and turf field infill.

“We are thrilled with this gift and greatly appreciative of Nike’s generosity,” Palmer said in the release. “It is a recognition both of the importance of Joan to the world of sports, and in particular to young women. She is a true icon in the world of long-distance running. Joan is also a widely respected member of the Freeport community.

“In addition to her accomplishments in athletics, she has been an active leader in a wide variety of charitable activities throughout Maine. Nike’s extraordinary initiative will help us provide a first-class facility at Freeport High School, which will help all kids and adults in the community be healthier and will help us to recognize Joan’s athletic success and community leadership,” he said.

Nike has pledged $1 million for the track and turf field project in Freeport in honor of Olympic gold medalist and Freeport resident Joan Benoit Samuelson.