AUGUSTA — Themes of family support, parental guidance and opportunities for female athletes echoed throughout acceptance speeches from an eclectic group of honorees at the 39th annual induction ceremony for the Maine Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday.
Former United States Senate Majority Leader and Waterville native George Mitchell sounded humorous and inspirational notes while concluding the ceremony as the ninth inductee before a banquet crowd of 800 at the Augusta Civic Center. Noting he had spoken at graduation ceremonies at every high school in the state and visited nearly every town, Mitchell sometimes encountered negative attitudes from those who felt the state’s residents didn’t always measure up on a national and worldwide scale.
“These people can compete with anybody anywhere in the world,” Mitchell said. “We are as good as anybody anywhere.” The nine inductees included three women — Olympians Julia Clukey, of Augusta, and Ellie Logan, of Boothbay Harbor, and golfer Abby Spector, of Waterville — all of whom were lauded by the six new male members of the Hall along with master of ceremonies Dick Whitmore as finished products of what others had started and inspirations to future female athletes.
“My mom went to school before the passing of Title IX,” said Clukey, a member of the 2010 Olympic luge team, in reference to the landmark legislation that passed in 1972 and opened the door for female athletes.
Clukey praised both her parents who encouraged her efforts while she was still in junior high.
“At 13 I was packing up to head to Europe for the junior luge Olympics,” she said. “I realize what a sacrifice it was to send me out into the world.”
Spector helped change the rules for junior female golfers when she competed against boys in the early 1990s before there were separate championships for girls. Family support was central to her acceptance speech.
“No one in my family ever doubted me,” the seven-time Maine Women’s Amateur champion said. “This is the part where I’m going to cry. I feel like I have the best father anyone could possibly ask for. This honor is as much his as it is mine today.”
Logan, who won Olympic gold medals for rowing in 2008 and 2012, is still actively training. She connected the state’s love of water sports and activity to the simplicity of her sport.
“Rowing is very much evident in our Maine culture,” she said. “Whatever rowing may lack in glamour and glitz, the physical and mental rewards are worth it.”
Three men who played at the University of Maine, two of whom went onto collegiate coaching careers, were also inducted. Current University of Southern Maine baseball coach Ed Flaherty and UMaine football coach Jack Cosgrove both played their respective sports at their alma maters while Joe Ferris was a star pitcher for the Back Bears and 1964 College World Series MVP.
“I just like to have fun,” Flaherty said. “I’ve done it for 29 years of coaching.”
Flaherty’s teams have won more than 800 games and two Division III College World Series, yet he said he was still smarting to a doubleheader loss over the weekend.
“It’s the same feeling I had 30 years ago and that’s good because I still want to do it,” he said.
Cosgrove played quarterback at Maine and has been the team’s football coach the past 21 years, last season winning the Colonial Athletic Association title. He joked when he told his mother of his induction she said “what the hell did you do?”
“I always felt the greatest classroom I ever entered was the football field,” the UMaine coach said. “And my greatest teachers were my coaches.”
Ferris, whose World Series team is planning a 50th reunion this summer joked “I kind of thought the statute of limitations was running out on me. I wasn’t any big star, primarily we had a great team. It was just our time I guess.”
Stearns High School basketball star Steve Pound and television host Bill Green were also inducted. Pound averaged 40 points a game in leading Stearns to the Class A state title in 1968 and later led Acadia University to the Canadian national championship. As a semi-pro he once scored 126 points in a single game against a team in England. Inducted on his birthday, Pound noted he attended the induction ceremony of former Stearns coach George Wentworth in 1978, traveling from Quebec, where he was coaching, to Portland for the ceremony. It came full circle Sunday as many of his former players in Quebec made the trip to Augusta in his honor.
Green, who hosts “Bill Green’s Maine,” noted he had profiled all but one of the inductees, many of them several times, throughout a broadcasting career that has spanned more than 30 years.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever been happy to play right field and bat ninth,” he said.
Most of Mitchell’s athletic achievements came in the political realm, primarily as lead investigator into Major League Baseball’s steroid investigation. He played basketball at Waterville High and later at Bowdoin, but told Whitmore his accomplishments weren’t worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.
“Then Whit told me Bill Green was being inducted,” Mitchell joked, “and I said I accept.”
Maine businessman and Hall of Fame board member Bill Haggett received the President’s Award while five scholar/athletes were honored and received $5,000 scholarships. They included Wasburn’s Carsyn Koch, Madawaska’s Ian Lee, Alexandra Logan of Cheverus, Messalonskee’s Mikayla Turner and Massabesic’s Rayne Whitten.