Houlton school district to introduce lacrosse, unified basketball to Aroostook County

HOULTON, Maine — Two new club sports will make their debuts at Houlton Middle-High School this spring.

Following unanimous approval by the RSU 29 school board, boys and girls lacrosse and a unified basketball team, which combines students with special needs alongside other athletes, will be added to the spring sports schedule as club sports.

“I have had the pleasure of viewing unified basketball for a number of years at Hampden Academy,” RSU 29 Superintendent Richard Lyons said. “It is a very moving sport. What you will see is great collaboration and sportsmanship and really the caring of all the student athletes is phenomenal.”

As club sports, none of the programs will affect current varsity sports at the high school. Any student who participates in lacrosse may also compete on the baseball, softball, tennis or track and field varsity teams for Houlton.

“I am excited that we are the first school in The County to get unified basketball approved,” RSU 29 Athletic Director Jon Solomon said. “We are looking forward to seeing it grow over the years here in Houlton and Aroostook County.”

Unified basketball will play its season after the February vacation and the first couple weeks of March. 

Sandy Flacke, special education director, explained that unified basketball is a collaborative sport hosted by Maine Special Olympics and the Maine Principals’ Association. A total of four games will be played — two at home and two away.

“It brings together students with disabilities and peer mentors to play basketball,” she said. “There are other sports that they could also participate in.”

Boys and girls high school lacrosse will run alongside the traditional spring sports of baseball, softball, tennis and track and field.

The Northern Maine Lacrosse Club, known as the “Most Northeastern Lacrosse program in the USA,” was established in 2017 by Houlton resident Ken Ervin.

Interest in lacrosse has grown steadily since its introduction to the Houlton area. The Northern Maine Lacrosse Club Moose got its start thanks, in part, to the Bill Belichick Foundation. That foundation awarded a grant for 24 sets of player equipment, worth more than $7,000, to the Northern Maine Lacrosse Club. The equipment included sticks, helmets, shoulder pads, elbow pads and gloves.

“We are excited to be able to offer some more activities to our students who are not currently active in sports during this time of year,” Solomon said. “We have a group of boys and girls that are not doing tennis, baseball, softball or track, but they are playing lacrosse. Giving those students opportunities to be active and part of our great athletic tradition in Houlton is what is important.”

“Back in 2017, this started as a promise to my oldest children to start a sport that didn’t exist up here (in Aroostook County),” Ervin said during Monday’s meeting. “We started out in 2017 with 20 players (each). We have shown steady growth in player development and participation.” 

In 2021, the Northern Maine Lacrosse Club had more than 60 boys and girls in grades 3-11 playing lacrosse.

“It is a dream to be at this point today,” Ervin said. “I never played the sport, but as you all know, when you have children who love a sport, you try to make it work. I think this is a great opportunity for the players in high school, as well as those growing up to continue playing.”

He added that 90 percent of those who played last spring did not play any other sport.

Ervin said the lacrosse group hopes to receive similar approval from the SAD 70 school board at their next meeting Monday, Feb. 14 to allow Hodgdon students to play as well. Solomon said he expects both the boys and girls high school squads to have around 15 athletes participating. 

The Northern Maine Moose have traditionally used the football field at the Maliseet Sports Complex for its home games and practices. The closest opponent is in the Bangor area.

Lacrosse will provide all of its own transportation, while the unified basketball teams will use a bus to transport, with funds coming from Special Olympics.

Lyons noted there would be no cost to RSU 29 in their current form as club sports. However, if the lacrosse programs should continue to thrive, the district would need to make a decision at a later date on whether to add lacrosse as an official high school sport.

Get the Rest of the Story

Thank you for reading your 4 free articles this month. To continue reading, and support local, rural journalism, please subscribe.