Erskine’s Gina Goding was one of the top hurdles at the Class C state meet at Bowdoin College in Brunswick. Submitted photo

Editor’s note: This is the 24th installment of our new series, “Remember When,” in which we revisit some of the memorable games, events, streaks and runs in high school spring sports we’ve covered over the last few decades.

The Erskine Academy girls track and field team didn’t have a long tradition. Or a deep roster, or a lot of experience. The Eagles didn’t even have a track on which to practice.

And one year, none of that mattered.

In 1992, a true underdog story unfolded in the central Maine area. Erskine won a championship no one could have seen coming — not even the athletes pulling it off — when it won the Class C state championship, earning the school its first state title.

“When the year started, I don’t think the goal of that group of girls was to be state champions,” said Doran Stout, the team’s head coach. “I don’t think they even thought it was possible until it was upon them.”

Erskine left no doubt as to who was the best team in Class C that year. The Eagles won the Mid-Maine Conference title, then won the Eastern Maine championship, then edged Falmouth 71-67 in the state meet at Bowdoin College, taking down strong teams from Maranacook and Winthrop in the process.

The Eagles won big that year. They just didn’t think big. Not going in, at least.

“There wasn’t a lot of pressure. We were all out there just having fun, trying different things,” said Heather Bumps, a junior on that team and state champion in the javelin. “We were pretty lucky to be successful.”

There was ample reason for modesty. Erskine’s program was only four years old going into 1992, so most of the athletes that spring were new to the sport. Bumps, for example, played softball growing up, and only switched to track and field after she got hurt and Stout recommended she use her strong throwing arm in the javelin.

The group of newcomers included the coach. Stout was coaching basketball at Erskine when he started the track and field program in 1988, and by 1992 he was still learning the ropes of his new sport.

“These girls, they didn’t have the expertise from their coach that maybe they could have got somewhere else,” Stout said. “I begged, borrowed and stole every bit of knowledge that I could get my hands on. I was constantly asking other coaches, ‘What do you do for a workout on Tuesdays with your sprinters? What do your throwers do on Mondays?’ “

The Eagles also had no real facility, and had to get the most out of the school and the surrounding area. There were three hurdles, and Erskine’s hurdlers practiced in the parking lot. Throws were done on an open field by the school. Runners ran on the roads, or practiced technique in the hallways.

“We just were willing to work where we needed to,” said Stacey Sutter, formerly Stacey Reitchel, a hurdler on the team and a sophomore in 1992. “I think (the thought was) we’ll make the best of what we’ve got.”

That included personnel. Erskine had only 11 athletes on the team, and the Eagles knew they couldn’t afford to be specialists.

“We did a lot of events,” said Bumps, who now lives in Winthrop and works at Colby College. “Now you see athletes that kind of have a specialty. … I think that we probably each did five, six, seven different events, because we were such a small team.”

On that small roster, however, there was talent. Leading the way were Bumps, who was a lock for points in the javelin and an excellent long and triple jumper, and senior Gina Goding, who went on to win state crowns in both the 100 and 300 hurdles.

“Gina was an amazing athlete, all-around, any athletic endeavor,” Bumps said. “She was also just a really kind, nice person, that everyone was friends with. She was definitely a leader on the team.”

The Eagles could bank on others for points, though. Nikki Ouellette won the 100, Wendy Ellis won the triple jump and Stacey Lewis won the discus at the Eastern Maine championships. Sutter, who became the state 300 hurdles champion the next year, combined with Goding to form a potent hurdling tandem.

“I think we definitely knew we had some strengths,” said Sutter, a Palermo resident who works with the RSU 12 school system. “We just tried to utilize them and make them count as much as we could.”

Still, the Eagles didn’t know they could be a championship mix until the conference meet, when Erskine edged a powerful Maranacook team 154-152. The Eagles won nine events, and that versatility was on display; Ouellette, who hadn’t run the 400 before, ran it that day and won, while Goding ran the 200 for the first time and finished third.

“After we won the conference meet that day, they got back on the bus and it was kind of like ‘Wow, we’re pretty good. We’re better than we thought we were,’ ” Stout said. “It was fun to go through that with those kids.”

Erskine beat Maranacook again, 99-78, in the Eastern Maine meet, then headed to Bowdoin for the state championship. Soon after the meet began, Stout got some distressing news: Ellis, his triple jump ace, had fouled on each of her jumps and didn’t make the final.

“My heart just sank, because according to the seedings, we and Falmouth were within two points of one another either way, and we’d just lost what I thought were the 10 most sure points we were going to get,” Stout said. “And Gina was standing there, and she said ‘Don’t worry, Wendy. Coach, don’t worry. We’ll make it up.’ ”

Goding backed up her words, winning the 100 hurdles in 16.2 seconds and the 300 hurdles in 49 seconds flat. Then the rest of the results came. Bumps won the javelin at 107-6, and was second in the long jump and triple jump. Sutter was third in the 100 hurdles. Ouellette was third in the 100 and fifth in the 200. Lewis was third in the javelin and fifth in the discus. Michelle Glidden was sixth in the shot put.

“They were competitive,” Stout said. “Those girls did not want to lose, to anybody at anything.”

Finally, the announcement was made that Erskine had done just enough. The Eagles, in only their fifth year of existence as a program, had their championship.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Stout said. “What they did was pretty remarkable, I think.”

Now, at Erskine, there is a track. It’s on the field that the Eagles used 28 years ago to practice their throws. And athletes like Jack Jowett, Kailey Porter and Jade Canak have honed championship-caliber form there.

Sutter said she hopes 1992 was a step in that direction.

“People were pretty excited,” she said. “Hopefully, we helped to build a program there for all the future track athletes.”

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