FREEPORT — Slow and steady wins the race, at least when it comes to the new Joan Benoit Samuelson Track and Field.
After 20 years of planning and four referendum votes, students, staff, members of the community and honored guests gathered behind Freeport High School on Friday, May 18, for the grand opening of the $4.5 million facility named for the Maine Olympian.
The facility’s namesake was among those who delivered remarks before the first true home meet hosted by Freeport High School began around 3:45 p.m.
A member of the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and the winner of the first women’s Olympic marathon during the 1984 games in Los Angeles, Samuelson honed her passion for athletics in Cape Elizabeth and has lived in Freeport since 1983.
“When I saw the plywood signs asking you to vote yes on the track, which was totally a grassroots effort, I just lost it,” a teary-eyed Samuelson said. “This is such a selfless and supportive community and I’m honored to be a part of it.”
During her remarks, Samuelson asked the crowd to observe a moment of silence for a fallen member of the Freeport track team, Austin Williams, who was struck by a car and killed last month while serving in the U.S. Navy in Manama, Bahrain.
“(His) spirit will burn brightly for many miles to come and he’ll be held in high regards by his teammates who will follow him here,” Samuelson said.
Samuelson recalled playing field hockey more than 40 years ago in the same spot the ceremony was held. Only back then, Samuelson said, the pitch only “remotely resembled a field.”
“Today we dedicate this track because of a community effort that persevered through votes, referendums … construction hurdles and weather conditions only known by people here in Maine,” she said. “The generosity of donors at all heights have made their marks in meaningful and tangible ways.”
About $1.4 million of the project was funded by Regional School Unit 5; nearly $2.3 million was raised by the Tri-Town Track & Field Committee, including a $1.35 million donation from Nike, which also produces the Nike Grind material used in the turf and track. An additional $760,000 in leftover funds from Freeport High School renovations was also put towards the construction project.
“A belief to build a stronger, healthier community bound us tightly … There is no finish line to the good communities can do when they choose to work together,” Samuelson said.
Friday’s ceremony also included remarks from Superintendent Becky Foley; School Board Chairwoman Michelle Ritcheson; John Paterson and Fred Palmer, secretary and president of the Tri-Town Track & Field Project, respectively; and Jorge Casimiro, vice president of global community impact at Nike.
“All of us (at Nike) are Joanie’s teammates and from today forward, we’re your teammates as well,” Casimiro told the crowd.
High school juniors Natalie Anderson and Alex Les were among the athletes in the crowd waiting to compete in the inaugural meet, which Samuelson called “historic.”
“This is probably the nicest track I’ve ever been to,” Anderson said.
Before the track and field were completed, the Falcons would travel to Brunswick to practice at Bowdoin College, which Anderson said would often “eat into the team’s practice time.”
“It’s great being able to practice and have meets on our home turf now,” Les added. “(Bowdoin) has a really great facility, but this is far superior.”
Ritcheson noted that the facility will not only be used by the Falcons, but by the entire community.
“Thanks to the community that has supported this track and field,” she said. “Many have dedicated both financially and their time and energy … not only for our students, but for our community for years to come.”
Regional School Unit 5 on Friday, May 18 held the grand opening of the new $4.5 million track and field behind Freeport High School.
School Superintendent Becky Foley presents Olympic Gold Medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson with an honorary bib before kicking off the “Jog with Joanie” lap around the Joan Benoit Samuelson Track and Field on May 18.
Joan Benoit Samuelson officially opens the Joan Benoit Samuelson Track and Field, accompanied by School Superintendent Becky Foley, left, and School Board Chairwoman Michelle Ritcheson.