Sports legacy at Maine Girls’ Academy won’t soon be forgotten

Bill Goodman and his Maine Girls’ Academy basketball team had practiced 10 times in recent weeks and played in several summer-league games. They had gone on team-bonding trips, including to a recent Portland Sea Dogs game.

Then the news came Thursday morning that the school will be closing on July 15.

“It’s been a bad day,” Goodman said Thursday afternoon. “There are a lot of broken hearts right now.”

Maine Girls’ Academy, a private all-girls school, made the announcement on its website, saying, “This difficult and sad decision was made necessary by lower enrollment and revenue than would be needed to operate the school throughout the upcoming school year.”

That came as a shock to many, including Joe Kilmartin, who would have entered his 40th year as the school’s athletic director this fall.

“It caught me off guard this morning,” he said. “I really haven’t had time to contemplate the whole decision yet. I’m still somewhat in the shock stage.”

So are the athletes. Catherine Reid was a second-team all-conference basketball player last winter. She said the news came “as a complete surprise. We have been playing summer ball and I have been looking forward to my senior year with my teammates. The first thing I thought of was my team, my friends, teachers and coaches. There are no words to describe the heartbreak that everyone is experiencing.”

MGA offered 13 sports, with volleyball planned to become a varsity sport this fall. The girls’ basketball program was easily the most successful, with 10 regional Class A championships and six Class A state championships in 15 years while the school was known as Catherine McAuley High, which opened in 1969 by the Sisters of Mercy. In 2015 the school dropped its affiliation with the Roman Catholic Church and a year later was renamed Maine Girls’ Academy.

Its basketball team was led by some of the best coaches in the state – Liz Rickett, Wil Smith, Amy Vachon and Goodman – and sent many of its players to NCAA Division I schools. Sarah Ryan, known then as Sarah Marshall, went to Boston College, as did Alexa Coulombe; Ashley Cimino to Stanford; Abby Wentworth to Manhattan College; Rebecca Knight to Maine before shifting to USM; Olivia Smith to Dartmouth; Allie Clement to Marist, her sister Sarah Clement to New Hampshire.

The Lions also won state championships in swimming (Class B, 2001, 2002 and 2008) and tennis (Class A, 2000).

In recent years, declining enrollment – the school went from 250 students in 2008 to 90 this school year – forced the Lions to combine with other schools in field hockey and softball to have enough players to field a team. But basketball, which continued to play in the state’s highest classification, remained competitive. The 2017-18 team won its first nine games and finished 13-6.

Goodman coached the girls’ basketball team for seven years with state titles in 2012, ’13 and ’14. The last two years, he said, “have been very special.” He said he had no issues with parents – “Nothing but support,” he said – and his players always gave their best.

“It’s sad it’s over,” he said, his voice cracking. “They’re my girls.”

Allie Clement, who will play one more season at Marist while earning a master’s degree, said it wasn’t just basketball that made the school special.

“It was a sense of community,” she said. “It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I had so much fun there, my sister had so much fun there. It’s really sad, heartbreaking, that other people won’t be able to experience it the way I did. I know how special that time was.”

Goodman doesn’t know what he’ll do now but is more concerned about his players. North Yarmouth Academy, a private school, agreed to accept MGA students.

“I love coaching,” said Goodman, “but I seriously only care about my players right now. I want them to be happy.”

Jack Hardy, the athletic director at NYA, said the school will hold an informational day for MGA families next Tuesday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. “We have no idea if any of those kids will ultimately end up coming to NYA,” he said. “I know we would welcome them here.”

Dick Durost, the executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association, said MGA’s absence will be felt, especially at the league level. The student-athletes, he said, have options to consider and transfer waivers would need to be signed.

“My advice to the students and families is to choose the school you’re going to attend next year before you choose the summer program you want to be involved with,” he said.

Like Clement, Reid said playing for MGA was special.

“Putting on that uniform every game gave you a certain sense of pride that you don’t get anywhere else,” she said. “It’s more than just a name. It stood for something.”

And she hopes that she and her teammates can find a common destination.

“We have something special,” she said. “Coach Goodman does everything for us. Playing for him the past three years has been the best. I’m not sure what I’ll do next but I hope there is a way that my teammates and I can stay together.”

MGA’s closure will force the Southwestern Maine Activities Association to redo some schedules, including fall sports and basketball. “It is sad,” said Thornton Academy Athletic Director Gary Stevens, the SMAA president this year. “(MGA) has been a fixture in the SMAA since the 1970s. I know basketball was a vital part of the fabric of our league and even though some of the other programs were not as strong, they were a very loyal, dedicated member of the league. Joe Kilmartin was with us for 40 years. That will be missed, no question about that.”

MGA was going to play Class C volleyball this year, prompting NYA’s Hardy to redo the schedule for that region. Several Downeast schools were to travel to MGA this fall.

Kilmartin said the schedules will be redone and the athletes will find new homes, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of the closure.

“I knew my years here weren’t forever,” he said. “But when you leave, you want to leave something to build on.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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