It is time for the University of Maine athletics department to show a little good will to some of its most dedicated fans.
During a recent Black Bears exhibition basketball game at Alfond Arena, an older gentleman (he was maybe 70) stopped me as I hurried toward the concession stand for a pretzel — which, by virtue of their new “Bavarian” affiliation, are now $4 a pop.
The man graciously complimented me for my work covering UMaine sports over the years. He was decked out in a Columbia blue UMaine baseball cap and a Black Bears sweatshirt. He was a proud UMaine alumnus who had competed in track and field as an undergraduate.
After a couple of minutes, he got to the real reason for the chat. Why, he wondered, does UMaine not make available some parking spaces close to Alfond Arena for its fans who are senior citizens?
UMaine athletics counts many in the over-60 crowd among its most loyal fans. That is true whether we’re talking about women’s basketball, men’s hockey, men’s basketball or even baseball.
The fan in question thought it would be a nice gesture if UMaine would allow senior citizens to park in the lot alongside Alfond Arena so they would not have to walk as far to get from their vehicles to the building.
Even in good weather, some of those fans are challenged to make a walk of 100 yards or more across the parking lot. Throw in rain, chilling winds or winter snow and/or ice and it’s enough to discourage some of them from attending games at all.
The man mentioned that season-ticket holders, sky-box patrons and those who make a certain minimum donation are afforded special parking privileges in spaces adjacent to Alfond Arena. He also pointed out that the satellite lot on the north end of the arena goes virtually unused for men’s and women’s basketball games.
It’s time for UMaine to help out some of its die-hard fans, many of whom have been attending games on campus for decades. Senior citizens over age 60 should be entitled to park close to the arena at no extra charge.
It not only rewards the loyalty of the older fans, it helps make it easier for them to attend games at Alfond Arena, where presumably they’ll buy popcorn, a hot dog, a drink — or even an occasional $4 pretzel.
Perhaps, given the income UMaine derives in particular from its men’s hockey parking, it would be more difficult to justify opening up some of the premium parking spaces for those games.
However, there are other areas closer to the building that could be reserved for seniors.
In this day and age of lackluster attendance at basketball and baseball games, what could it possibly hurt to cordon off an appropriate number spaces for senior citizens?
It is the right thing to do.