Cindy Schultz was late to the meeting, but when she saw her softball teammates, she knew how it went.
“Five of them came out crying and running away from me,” Schultz remembered. “I said, âOh, this isn’t good.'”
Schultz, a Bingham native and Valley High School graduate, is a junior at Maine Maritime Academy. It was at that meeting that she learned the school would no longer field a softball team after 2014.
“It hit us all pretty hard,” said Kelsie Hilton, a junior and Monmouth Academy grad. “Especially me, coming in my junior year and expecting to play all four years. I was definitely frustrated.”
Schultz, Hilton, and Carrabec grad Ashlee Knight were expecting to play four years of softball at Maine Maritime. The school announced in early September a “restructuring” plan that involved dropping softball and starting a women’s lacrosse program to begin play in spring 2015.
At issue is the MMA softball field. While a serviceable turf field, it was part of a multi-purpose field — which affected other sports.
“We were tearing up the turf field pretty bad,” Hilton said.
Since the Mariners are the only team in the North Atlantic Conference with a turf field, they had to “host” a quarterfinal playoff game in Bucksport last season. That’s when Schultz says she realized the program might be in trouble.
You might be thinking that a turf field would be a nice asset this spring, and you’d be right. The irony is that Maine Maritime lost its softball program mainly because of its field, but for a while this season the team was the only one in the conference that could play a home game. Players acknowledged the decision proved heart-breaking.
“When it did snow a lot, they just plowed it,” Knight said earlier this week. “The turf itself is completely cleared off. It’s very ironic, because as of right now we’re the only team that’s actually played on our field.”
Schultz tore an ACL in high school and suffered another ACL tear this summer. Her original plan was to sit out this softball season, support her team from the bench and come back full strength for her senior year. With no next year, she’s playing second base and shortstop this season.
“I’m definitely a lot slower,” Schultz said. “As of right now, I have to find a new way to slide. I have to tuck my leg under, and the brace won’t allow it.”
Hilton is an all-around athlete, and said she has been playing softball since she was 3 years old.
“My dad’s coached me since I was very little,” she said. “Coming here to play sports is just a privilege, and I was hoping to play my senior year. To have that taken away, it’s like, âOuch. That hurts.'”
In a news release posted to the school’s website, Maine Maritime indicated there would be a co-ed intramural softball team next spring, and that the school would help athletes create a softball team to play at the club level.
“It’s not like I’m done playing softball,” Hilton said. “I play all year round. We’ll all get together (next spring) and play. No doubt about it. We’ll start a club or something. I’ll start it if I have to.”
Knight is a freshman, and her father still coaches softball at Carrabec. She didn’t find out MMA was dropping softball until after she set up on campus, but said she likely would have chosen the school regardless.
“I’ve definitely asked myself that,” Knight said. “But the two schools I was going back and forth between were Machias and MMA, and Machias doesn’t have a (softball) program.”
Hilton and Schultz both said they will come back for their senior year at Maine Maritime. Knight said she will also continue at the school.
“Even though softball is my main sport, I grew really close with the soccer team, and the softball team, too,” Knight said. “I just can’t imagine a) going to a different school, and b) not being around my group of friends here.”
Still, through no fault of their own, this is their last season. The Mariners are 2-4 after losing a tough doubleheader to Husson on Thursday, and Knight is hitting .462. The regular season ends in a little over three weeks, and the end of the postseason is the end of a softball program that started in 1999.
“Coach said (Monday) that we had 12 practices left,” Hilton said. “Our season’s short to begin with. When she said that, it’s scary. I definitely count down how many days are left.”
So what can they do — what can anyone do — when you have no say in a decision that directly affects you, and your only real choice is to just live with it? The Mariners have decided to try to make the best of it. If there’s a positive to be found in this, they’ve found it.
“This being our last season, we want to come out on top, and show that Maine Maritime softball is still a great program,” Hilton said. “We want to leave a strong last impression.”
“The good thing that comes from (it being) the last season is we’re all on the same page,” Schultz said. “We’re all thinking, âIf we’re going to do something, it has to be now.’ That mentality on the team is great.”
The Mariners are also trying to leave a mark through the community. They’re raising money for the Mikail R. Russo More Opportunities for NEighborhood Youth foundation, which helps with the cost of youth sports for families without enough funds to pay for things like equipment or camps.
The Mariners also have a one-word slogan for this season: Remember. It’s not as eye-catching as the Red Sox beards, but it’s appropriate for a team that’s hoping the memories from this year will carry through the springs in the future.
“That word’s a pretty strong word,” Hilton said. “I think that suits our softball team. We want to be remembered, and we want to come out with a bang, and remember what stuck, and remember what hit home with all of us.”