It’s fair to say interest in the University of Maine women’s basketball team was at an all-time low after the 2010-11 season.
When Richard Barron arrived in Orono to take over the program that had failed to demonstrate measurable growth under the direction of former UMaine star Cindy Blodgett, he was well aware he would have to rebuild some bridges.
Friday morning, the latest example of Barron’s efforts to redefine and revitalize the Black Bear program and community support for it was in evidence.
He was scheduled to join UMaine men’s coach Ted Woodward, Black Bear assistant coaches and players from both teams in conducting a free youth basketball clinic at Memorial Gymnasium in Orono.
Then, prior to the UMaine women’s 6 p.m. Dead River Co. Classic opener against Troy University at Alfond Arena, Barron was planning to hold a “Cub Club Huddle” at Alfond Arena.
In this community outreach effort, which is scheduled prior to every home game, he’ll spend about 10 minutes with youngsters who have turned out for the game. The idea is to build a rapport with young fans by telling them a little bit about the game and what they should expect to see against that day’s opponent.
Barron also has grabbed the public address microphone after the first few home games to thank UMaine fans for attending the game and supporting the team.
To some, these efforts might not seem that significant. But that willingness to spend time with fans and tell them how much they are needed to bolster the program are key elements.
Barron clearly wants to make a good impression and he knows that anything he can do to promote the program and engage fans — young and old alike — will pay dividends down the road.
The UMaine women also spent three hours in the parking lot at the Bangor Mall on Wednesday to help collect food for a charity drive. Barron previously had his players hand-deliver numerous season tickets to fans in the Greater Bangor area, a move that was greeted with excitement and appreciation.
Barron likely is going to need a significant amount of time — more likely years than weeks or months — to replenish the talent pool and help get the Black Bears back into the mix as contenders in the America East Conference.
In the meantime he, his assistants and Black Bear players will continue to reach out to the community to establish a closer relationship with existing fans and generate more interest in the program.