Fort Kent, Maine-- The town of Fort Kent, Maine is often times referred to as, “The Little Town that Could” the same could be said for the University of Maine at Fort Kent’s athletic department. With only seven members making up the entire staff, each member of the department wears multiple hats and fills multiple roles to make the department run as efficiently as possible. The most important role of the coaches is to recruit student-athletes to the university. Global pandemic or not, the coaches must prepare for their seasons when the school year hopefully starts up again in the Fall. Fortunately for UMFK, the coaches are used to doing more with less, so even though most of the world’s work has come to a standstill, the UMFK coaches have been hard at work recruiting despite the challenges COVID-19 has thrown at them.
“We are in a rare space here that because of our location, we do not get to do a ton of face to face recruiting. I wouldn’t say it has been business as usual for me despite the pandemic, but I have been using other methods of communicating with recruits for a number of years now, especially with a lot of kids I recruit being from far away. Our school has provided us with a couple good videos to send to recruits and I’ve been a big proponent of the Facetime tour, where I’ll show a kid and their family our campus over Facetime, it’s almost as if they were here.” Head Women’s Basketball Coach Fletcher Brown said.
This echo’s the statements of other coaches including Head Men’s Soccer Coach Oniqueky Samuels who mentioned, “The most important part of my recruiting strategy has never been face to face. It is certainly important to meet and greet the recruits and I incorporate that when I have the luxury, but being in Fort Kent, I have to make use of other methods and strategies to recruit. I use word of mouth and alumni recommendations, because a lot of our alumni live in countries all over the world. I also have community college and high school coaches reach out frequently about potential players.”
Each coach typically takes one trip outside of Maine per year to meet with recruits face to face, but the Spring trips were cancelled this year because of travel limitations. “It’s definitely been different. We were unable to take our big west coast recruiting trip this year, so I’ve been recruiting primarily over the phone and online. Thank goodness for social media. It has been a great tool.” Said Tom Bird, Head Men’s Basketball Coach.
The power of social media has been a great resource for everyone during this time, especially for UMFK coaches. It allows them to see footage and info on players, and it allows potential players to see what the institution has to offer. Selina Castro, Head Women’s Volleyball Coach said, “We recently created a Women’s Volleyball specific Instagram page, not necessarily for recruiting purposes, but the timing has worked out well and it has been a great way to get recruits interested in our program because they get to have an in-depth look at what we have.”
However, despite the creative ways our coaches have continued to do their jobs, there are challenges in recruiting, and COVID-19 is not helping the coach’s jobs be any easier. “The recruiting process is slow and challenging more than usual because nobody knows what will happen, and it’s scary for recruits when they think about traveling across the globe or the United States. In such a chaotic time, it is about remembering and highlighting the positives” said Alex Smith, Head Women’s Soccer Coach.
Interim Athletic Director and Head Track and Field Coach Matt Dyer stated, “There is definitely an understandable hesitation to commit with some recruits due to the COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty as to what the coming months and Fall will look like. With that in mind, I feel that it is more important than ever for myself and our coaching staff to stress the fact that this is a multi-year relationship we are building with our prospective students. We aren't just investing in you for the short term, but for the next 2-4 years of your educational journey and beyond and we will be there to help guide no matter what this pandemic throws at us.”
Regardless of the challenges, the emphasis for UMFK coaches has not changed; they are hard at work continuing to recruit with a high level of integrity and transparency, while highlighting all the positive things UMFK has to offer.
Coach Castro summed it up the best when she said, “There are already some obstacles in recruiting to UMFK, pandemic or not, it is our job as coaches to show these recruits that UMFK is a great place to go to school. The small class sizes give students an intimate feel, the campus and community are very supportive, the location is beautiful and we have a an established culture of winning. What more could you ask for?”