Friday, January 22, 2021

Pandemic frustrating, but Windham High athletes remain hopeful for winter sports season

By Matt Pascarella

Windham High School's Sean Cunniffe makes his
way to the basket during a boys' prep basketball
game at Lewiston High School last season.
Since March of last year, COVID-19 has been a giant obstacle in the way of Windham High School and their athletic seasons. Last year it cancelled the spring season, many summer athletic events and delayed this year’s fall season start while pushing some fall sports to other times during the year.

However, while the student athletes who play these sports were disappointed, their spirits weren’t squashed. In talking to athletes last season, just about everyone was happy to be back playing in whatever capacity it took.

The winter season has already faced challenges with it being pushed back a couple times and is currently suspended due to an increase in COVID-19 cases. Cumberland County has been categorized as yellow by the Maine Department of Education and Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Currently, no in-person athletics are allowed. A suspended, or even delayed season, can’t hold Windham athletes down. They are still ready and excited to play – whenever the season happens.

Since Cumberland County was designated yellow, players and coaches have been meeting and training virtually. Windham hockey coach Bobby Fothergill keeps positivity up in his talks with the team about strategies for when, not if, Cumberland County athletics will resume.

“What I miss most about playing is the home games. There is no better feeling than stepping on the ice for warmups at USM (University of Southern Maine) to a packed fan section,” said senior hockey player Holden Anderson.

For Alexis Hirning She’s really been looking forward to her senior year. It’s frustrating for Hirning because there are many other counties where they are able to play. For her, knowing that an hour away competition is occurring is tough. She misses the adrenaline rush of coming out during warm-ups, hearing her name called to start the game, and performing in front of a huge crowd.

“I have worked my tail off for the past three years, and it feels like a huge let down to be robbed of my last go-around. It is definitely frustrating,” said Hirning.

Senior cheerleader Bria Campobasso and senior basketball player Sean Cunniffe have worked very hard and would hate to miss out on their final seasons.

“I miss the environment of being on the court or field with my teammates,” said Cunniffe. “There is always good energy amongst the players and the coaches, I miss being with my teammates every day and I miss being able to compete.”

Campobasso misses the other cheerleaders. She says they always have fun and enjoy each other’s company. She would be disappointed if she didn’t get to cheer at her last basketball game.

It affects the coaches as well. ​Coach Chad Pulkkinen has used basketball as an outlet for himself.

“Sports are so vital to learning not only about the game but about yourself. I have learned a lot and have had some serious time to reflect ... and grow as a coach through this adversity.”

He’s used this time to prepare his team to give the best he can to his kids when their opportunity arises. “This group is truly special,” he said. “They have incredible senior leadership and believe in one another.”

What he’s seen in his underclassmen are kids who want to work hard and prepare for the next steps in this process.

“It has been great to be able to be back working with student athletes again,” said swim coach Peter Small. “I recognize it is not the season we had hoped for, but this team has such a wonderful group of student athletes ... I think the bonds that some are creating through virtual workouts will carry beyond the pandemic.” His team has been doing virtual workouts, yoga, working with a nutritionist and even trivia nights.

When the season starts, Windham athletes are ready to go.

“When we are able to get back on the ice, I am looking forward to building anticipation again, and turning it into motivation to be a historic high school hockey team,” said Anderson. He says even a season without fans is sufficient at this point.

“I encourage my teammates to keep pushing themselves ...” said Hirning. “Our athletic department has done a great job of contacting athletes, and when the practice sessions were available, making each day very productive and beneficial, but also very safe. Fingers crossed!”<

Tales from the Outdoors: Ice Fishing 101

By Bob Chapin

Many folks, particularly those from southern states, think ice fishing is absurd. Who would want to sit out on the ice and freeze to catch a fish? Usually, these are folks who have not tried it. To those of us who live in northern tier states, it is a way of life that we look forward to as soon as the ice is safe.

A whole industry has grown up to support the equipment needs of anglers. Everything from shelters, augers, fishing rods and reels, special lures, baits, and clothing. Everything you need to stay comfortable out on the ice, even overnight in some cases. It is a safe and fun filled activity for families, clubs, and individuals as long as you mind the safety precautions. If you don’t, trouble is not far away….

Below are some suggestions to keep you safe and help you to catch fish through the ice successfully:


    How much ice is enough—1 person 4 inches, 2 people 6 inches, ATV/snowmobile 9 inches, Small Truck 11-plus inches

    Lakes/ponds/rivers/streams— Do Not freeze evenly

    Shorelines less ice than centers but…

    Springs create soft/thin spots almost anywhere

    Moving water—outlets/tributaries, rocks that break the surface—danger!

    The only way to know for sure is to test drill

    Start close to shore and work out

    Look for others’ huts, ATVs, snowmobiles, trucks

    Carry ice picks on your person in an outer pocket or loop these through your sleeves so they are immediately available

    Tell someone not going on your trip where you are going and when you expect to return—-call them with changes in plans and when you are off the ice

    Carry a cell phone on you—preferably in a waterproof case in an easily accessible outer/upper pocket

Before you go

    Decide what water you’d like to fish and what species you are after

    Determine access points and parking—note some lots may not be plowed

    Assemble your gear—shelter, sled, ice creepers, space heater,  traps

    Auger or ice spud/ auger fuel and starting fluid, skimmer, rod/reel, lures

    Lively bait—shiners, smelt, suckers, wax worms, night crawlers

    Dress for the weather — chemical hand warmers (in your boots) extra gloves

    Know the law for that lake, species, size, bag limit

Once there 

    Confirm access point and ice safety

    Decide where you want to fish—often driven by species sought and wind—sometimes distance from parking, use prior drilled holes as an indicator

    Decide how you want to orient your traps—5 traps in Maine; 2 traps in New Hampshire

    Drill your holes—If you plan to jig a hole with a lure, only set 4 traps in Maine. Consider drilling all 5 or 10 holes at one time—hint: drill at various depths all in a line so you can easily see and visually check them

    Skim out the loose ice chips and determine the depth—using a sounder or electronically

    Bait your traps—mixed bag of live shiners and worms usually

    Adjust depth of your line to be ~1 foot off the bottom (1 foot below the ice for rainbows and Salmon)     



    The universal call for yours and anyone else’s trap being sprung by wind or fish

    Get there quickly but do not touch trap

    Look at the reel and see if/how fast it is turning—no movement=wind flags or hit ’n run?

    Don’t delay too long before reeling in—fish will find underwater obstructions and wrap your line

    Lift the trap and set it alongside hole

    Hand over hand the line until you feel the fish or it is visible below the ice, may wish to give a short, sharp tug to set hook; do not pull up on the line until you get the fish’s head pointed up the hole

    If the line snags, stop pulling and give the fish slack…he may just clear the obstruction himself

    Then an easy but constant lift in one motion until the fish is clear of the hole slide him away from the hole opening

    Keeper or not—unhook and put him back after pictures or put him in your sled

    Don’t dump your bait bucket at end of day

    Clean up any bait containers, drink cans, cigarette butts, food wrappers, etc. yours and others 

Special Fish—Cusk or Burbot

    Fish after dark

    Single hook—weighted to sit on the bottom

    Hook within 7 inches of weight

    Fixed line (secured at the reel)

    Bait with live or dead minnows, cut bait, gob of worms, corn, catfish bait

    Your name and address on your trap

    Check traps once an hour in Maine; once every 24 hours in New Hampshire—no
continuous watch

    Excellent white fleshed fish for chowders 

Ice derbies are great family fun. Find them on IFW Website <

Friday, January 15, 2021

Prep season on hold for indoor track, other sports for now

Windham's Wyatt Flibbert soars through the air
during a multi-school indoor track meet at the
University of Southern Maine in January 2020.
All athletic events in Cumberland County are
currently suspended because of an increase in
COVID-19 cases.
By Matt Pascarella

All high school sports in Cumberland County are currently on hold and the winter sports seasons began for Windham High School’s indoor track teams on Dec. 7.

Unfortunately, they were only able to get a couple weeks of practice in before an increase of coronavirus cases caused the Maine Department of Education to categorize Cumberland County as yellow which, according to Maine Principal Association’s guidelines means athletic activities are unable to take place, limiting in-person interactions between coaches and players.

Both the Windham girls’ and boys’ indoor track teams have been training virtually with the coaches sending them workouts and instructions over the internet.

The regular season was set to begin on Jan. 11, but now, Cumberland County schools are waiting for the next color code update which takes place on Friday, Jan. 15.

During this period of limbo, the girls’ indoor track team coached by Denise Curry has been practicing via Zoom three times a week with the girls running on their own.

The boys indoor track team has been doing virtual workouts via Google Meets and Coach Paula Pock emails weekend workouts for them to do them on their own as well. 

Windham senior Tavi Anghel said that he misses the excitement and adrenaline that flowed through the University of Southern Maine’s indoor track every Saturday. For Anghel, racing in front of hundreds of spectators gave him a rush and left him feeling satisfied afterward.

“Overall, it is disappointing, especially for our upper classman, but they all have been very positive and understanding about the situation, and we are thankful that we are still able to get together (virtually) and stay in shape,” said Pock.

Senior Ryan Abbotoni of Windham said it’s hard for him to not be able to compete in his last year of high school.

“I miss going to meets with my friends and trying to improve each week,” Abbotoni said.

Windham seniors Dustin Noonan and Ethan Wert said that they miss being able to see their friends and create life-long memories made from weeks of vigorous training and then celebrating their accomplishments afterward.

The Maine Department of Education will be coming out on Friday, Jan. 15 with a new color update for
Cumberland County. If Cumberland County returns to a green designation, RSU 14’s athletic director Rich Drummond said that the seasons will resume on Tuesday, Jan. 19.

Besides indoor track, other winter sports currently on hold for Windham High School include boys’ basketball, girls’ basketball, cheerleading, wrestling, swimming, ice hockey and alpine skiing.

When prep athletes are actually allowed to return to practice, masks must be worn at all times and they must successfully clear COVID-19 pre-screening requirements prior to each practice or game.

The state implemented its online risk assessment system for the virus last August.  A green designation means that fewer than one COVID-19 case per 100,000 people has been diagnosed in the county.

One to 9 is a yellow designation and between 10 and 24 is an orange designation. A red designation is when 25 or more diagnosed cases per 100,000 has been found in a Maine county.

State officials had originally announced in October that the winter prep sports season would be delayed. Ever since then, the starting date for winter sports activities has continued to be pushed back because of a dramatic spike in cases and deaths across the state. <

Tales from the Outdoors: Getting there may not be half the fun

By Bob Chapin

Special to The Windham Eagle 

If you watch many of the Hook and Bullet shows, the hunting and fishing shows on the Outdoor and Sportsman channels on TV, you’ll see that they are being filmed on increasingly remote locations, some in countries hostile to the US. 

They are places you cannot walk or drive to and you would likely have to take a plane plus a float or bush plane, a boat, or various kinds of livestock such as horses, mules, camels or even llamas. The producers downplay the element of danger hoping to make it appear more exotic if there is a perceived risk to your personal safety. I can attest to the reality of that danger even on a relatively “safe” hunt in the US.

Before I went on my first horseback elk hunt in Montana, I figured I better know something about horse riding. I was living in Northern Virginia at the time and I thought it would be easy to get a couple of riding lessons before heading out west. An internet and phone search found a stable not far from Washington DC in the horse country of Western Virginia and I gave them a call.

I grabbed a buddy who was game and we drove to the stables. It was a nice looking paddock but I noticed a slew of mounted riders all very proper young girls about 13 to 14 years of age, dressed to the nine’s in knee-high polished black leather boots, jodhpurs, smart black velvet riding jackets and a flocked helmet with a chin strap. And, of course, they were riding with English saddles. For those not familiar with saddles, the English saddle has a simple metal stirrup - basically a ring loosely hanging from a leather thong very high on the horse’s withers.

Our instructor assured us it was, “Just like a western saddle without the saddle horn (for holding on!) and the longer full stirrup that allowed your leg to extend straight down. Despite our misgivings, she led us up to a set of ‘stairs to nowhere’ that we climbed to get on the horses. Once seated we did a
couple of drills around the indoor arena before heading outside for the freelance work. 

The first event was a road crossing which we managed quite well …well how could we not, she was grasping the reins of my horse right at the bit the whole time! I think she would have stayed there for the duration, but it was time to give them a drink. 

As we approached a small stream, she let go of the reins and slapped the horse on the rump telling me to get all four of the horses feet in the water. Well, streams in Virginia are not quite like streams in Maine…the bottoms are mostly soft mud. As soon as my horse entered the stream he started stumbling and staggering as he sunk to his knees and I was convinced he was going to go down with me aboard. I pulled my rubber boots out of the stirrups and bailed out into the stream. I went over one boot under water but managed to stay upright though it was not graceful. 

She was upset that I, ‘Let the horse go’ but he took his drink and came out on her side of the stream, so all was OK. She boosted me back up onto the saddle and reinserted my boots into the stirrups.

The next drill was up and down hills but as we started up the small incline, the horse swung his head over toward her and bit her between her shoulder and neck. I am sure it must have hurt because she yanked his head down to her level then, to my surprise, she punched him right in the side of the head as hard as she could. He reared his head up but she controlled him with the reins. I told her I wished she
hadn’t done that while I was aboard.

She cut the lesson short and we headed for the arena. When we got inside, she simply said dismount as if we were seasoned riders. I managed to swing my right leg over the back of the horse but with the English saddles and their high stirrups I could barely reach the ground. Worse yet, the boot I submerged below its top had filled with water and that had expanded the boot foot to the point that I could not get it out of the stirrup.

I hopped along on one foot for half the arena before the horse finally stopped and with help, I got the boot extracted. This horseback riding was going to be harder than I thought. <

Friday, January 8, 2021

Tales From The Outdoors: Five more tips to make your outings fun

By Bob Chapin

I believe that vocalizations when deer hunting can be useful in attracting deer to your location or to trick them into identifying their location. To that end I have two calls…a fawn and a doe bleat that sound quite realistic, at least I know the fawn bleat is. I was bushwhacking down a small stream once in Virginia as there was no trail and the brush was thick on both sides. I came to a game trail that crossed the stream at the precise moment when a young fawn, who had become separated from its mother, got to the stream from the trail. We surprised one another and it bleated several times in an attempt to locate mom. That sound stuck with me and is mimicked very well by my call. 

The problem was both calls made by the same manufacturer looked, from outward appearances, to be identical. Small gold letters on the barrel of the call identified the sound it made but they were difficult to read in the good light of my kitchen but nearly impossible to read when up in a deer stand at dawn. To solve this problem, I took a three-cornered file and cut a small notch into the mouthpiece of the doe bleat large enough to feel with my mouth but not so large that I couldn’t cover it with my lips. So now I know instantly which call I am about to blow!

When I began shooting a bow, I routinely traveled to a couple of nearby ranges in order to take advantage of elevated shooting stands designed to copy the angles and ranges you could expect to shoot from in actual hunting situations in tree stands. Though the ranges were nearby, it was a pain to drive there during their hours, engage a safety observer or instructor, and leave when they were scheduled to close. I quickly realized if I was going to shoot with the regularity that most sources said a beginner should, I would need an elevated stand at home. 

So I built one out of pressure treated lumber complete with a seat and a safety harness and attached it to
a tree in the back yard. Rather than have only one target at a fixed range I located a company that was throwing out blocks of styrofoam roughly a foot square. I spray painted a “bullseye” on each and could locate them at various unknown ranges, some quite close to my stand. 

As it turned out that was good practice because none of the dozen or so deer that I have taken from a tree stand have exceeded 20 yards, and two of them I have had to wait for them to walk out from under my climbing tree stand foot platform before I could shoot!

The question of what footwear to put on when venturing out into the wild can be perplexing but it needn’t be. It really depends on where you are going.  The first consideration is comfort because if your feet are not happy, you will not be happy, your trips will be shorter, and probably not as successful. The second consideration is safety. Will the boots you select support your ankles and protect them from rocks and sharp sticks as you climb. Finally, will your feet be warm in them? Nothing shortens a day of ice fishing faster than cold feet. It really boils down to three basic boots with minor variations for style or cost. If you are going hiking in the mountains leather boots that cover your ankles are the ticket. I would shy away from the sneaker style even with reinforced soles as they tend to break down with
rugged use. 

The rubber soled lace up L.L. Bean-style hunting boots are great for most Maine woods where climbing is not anticipated. Also good in the flat land are the knee-high rubber boots such as the Muck boot. As long as you are careful not to exceed water depths in excess of the boot’s height you should be fine. I find myself reaching for the scent-free knee-high rubber boots most frequently even when launching a boat. Have I stepped over them on occasion, of course. It is never a fun experience.

When you go afield for the day take more than one pair of gloves. It is likely that the first pair you wear will get wet climbing frost covered tree stand steps, positioning decoys, or paddling your canoe. Warm hands keep you hunting.

I always carry fire starting equipment with me when hunting. I was able to recover a cold, wet hunting partner in Alaska close to hypothermia with a drink of hot chocolate made over an emergency fire. <

World-class skiing champion got start in Raymond

Kirsten Clark-Rickenbach competed in three Winter Olympic Games

By Ed Pierce

Her record speaks for itself and it’s likely that Raymond’s Kirsten Clark-Rickenbach will be remembered as the best Alpine skier ever from Maine.

She went from winning the U.S. Junior National Championship to earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic Ski Team and competing in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympic Games. Clark-Rickenbach also excelled in World Cup competition, securing a downhill victory, 28 Top-10 finishes, taking home a Silver Medal in the 2003 world Alpine Championships, and won seven U.S. National Championships including five straight downhill titles.

Now almost 14 years following her retirement from competitive skiing, Clark-Rickenbach remembers fondly growing up in Raymond and how it was a springboard to her success in life.

Growing up in Raymond, Kirsten Clark-Rickenbach went on
to become one of the top American Alpine skiers in history
and competed in three Winter Olympic Games as a member
of the U.S. Ski Team. COURTESY OF SKIMAG.COM  
I remember spending lots of time on Panther Pond, swimming, waterskiing and enjoying being outside,” she said. “My parents, George and Joan Clark, still live in Raymond. We try to get back there during the summer months, but we were unable to this year because of COVID.”

From kindergarten through sixth grade, she attended school in Raymond at Jordan-Small School and then went to North Yarmouth Academy for two years before transferring to Carrabassett Valley Academy at Sugarloaf as her skiing career was starting to take off.

“My parents started my brother Sean, and I in skiing because it was a great family sport that we could all do,” Clark-Rickenbach said. “We all enjoyed being outside and enjoyed skiing. I grew up loving to ski and I was able to make a career out of ski racing, I feel that I was extremely fortunate that I was able to pursue my dreams and that I was able to make them a reality.”  

The skier’s first victories were recorded in 1994 when she won the U.S. Junior Olympics downhill championship and a bronze medal in the Super Giant Slalom at Sugarloaf. In 1997, she captured the Nor-Am GS title.

Hard work, determination and years of training paid off for her when she earned a place on the U.S. Ski Team at the age of 19. At age 20, she competed for the U.S. in the Winter Olympics at Nagano, Japan.

“The best thing about competing in the Olympics, that is a tough one,” Clark-Rickenbach said. “It is amazing to fulfill a dream and to complete at the Olympics, and not to do it only once but three times. I
was honored and excited to be competing for my home country.”  

The life as a competitive skier can be a grind and a test of mental and physical endurance as Clark-Rickenbach found out during her career.

“World Cup Ski Racing occurs for the majority of the time in Europe for the winter,” she said. “The most difficult thing was being away from home for so long. There would be years I would leave at the end of November and not return until the end of March. That is a long period of time to be away from family and friends.”

Overcoming serious injuries sustained in World Cup competition, Clark says she’s proud of what she was able to accomplish and officially retired from competitive skiing in 2007. In 2010, she was inducted into the Maine Ski Hall of Fame and she was honored with induction into the U.S. Ski-Snowboard Hall of Fame in 2012.

She now lives with her husband, Andreas Rickenbach, a former World Cup skier and a former U.S. Ski Team coach, in Olympic Valley, California.  

“My husband and I are raising two daughters, who are 12 and 10,” Clark-Rickenbach said. “We spend
the days in the summer, horseback riding, hiking, biking and enjoying the outdoors. In the winter we spend our time skiing.”

According to Rickenbach-Clark, her advice for young people who are interested in someday competing in the Olympics is simple.

“If you have a dream and a goal, go after it,” she said. “So much of the excitement of reaching and striving for your dreams is the journey that it takes you on.  Believe in yourself and always put 100 percent effort into your training. If you are putting a 100 percent effort in, then you can always hold your head high and know you did your best.” <

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Windham baseball star to play in college for University of Connecticut

Windham High School pitcher Brady Afthim, a
senior, signed a national letter of intent to play in
college for the University of Connecticut during a
special ceremony at Windham High School on
Dec. 18. From left are Brady's brother Bryce Afthim,
Brady's mother Shelly Afthim, Brady Afthim
and Brady's father Phil Afthim.
By Ed Pierce

Brady Afthim has dreamed of playing baseball in college and he’s about to make that dream a reality, signing a national letter of intent to play for the University of Connecticut.

Afthim is the first player from Maine ever to be recruited by UConn Coach Jim Penders and will pitch for the Huskies in the Big East Conference. He will fall under the tutelage of Huskies’ pitching coach Josh MacDonald, who has coached six All-Americans during his time at UConn and has had at least one pitcher earn All-American status in each of the past four seasons.

He said having an opportunity to attend college and play baseball in New England appealed to him and was a big part of why he chose UConn.

“I felt that it was the best school for me since I wanted to stay in the Northeast,” Afthim said. “I really liked Pitching Coach Josh MacDonald and Head Coach Jim Penders and I wanted the opportunity to play for them. I wanted to play for the best baseball school in New England and that’s UConn. I want to get bigger, better and learn more from my coaches about the mental side of pitching. I would like to eventually become a weekend starting pitcher.”

To reach this point in his career has been a long road. He started playing baseball when he was 5, playing Little League baseball in Windham where he was part of the Windham All-Stars that won the district title when he was 9 and then captured the state championship when he was 10.

“I played for the Southern Maine River Rats and was part of winning the EBL championship when I was 14,” he said. “I joined the Maine Lightning when I was 16 and played for their College Showcase

Up until playing for the Lightning, Afthim had played catcher since the age of 7, but Lighting Coach Ryan Copp saw his potential as a pitcher and encouraged him to transition to the position.

He knows so much from playing in high school and college himself and creates a good atmosphere at games and practice,” Afthim said. “He is also the one who helped me through the recruiting process.”

Afthim also credits his Little League coach Scott Butts, River Rats coach Shawn Humphrey and his family for his development as a baseball player.

“My family has been very supportive - my Dad, Phil, taught me how to pitch, my brother Bryce has been a teammate and is currently a pitcher at the University of Southern Maine and my Mom, Shelly, has been my biggest fan.”

Afthim says he’s hoping to play his senior season for Windham High School if they have a season not wiped out by the pandemic and says he’ll take away a few memories from suiting up for the Eagles and WHS Coach Cody Dube.

“Making varsity and being the starting catcher as a freshman is certainly something I’ll never forget,” he said. “Also, in my sophomore year, Coach Dube let me be the closing pitcher against Noble. It was the first time in high school that I was able to pitch since I was the catcher.”

Dube says that Afthim's desire for excellence has been an integral part of the Windham High team.

"Brady's success comes from his competitiveness and his drive to be the best he can be. Brady takes failure personally and transfers those emotions into becoming a better player and teammate," Dube said. "When you have the drive to be the best you can be I truly believe you can be successful in whatever you put your mind towards. Brady's work ethic and commitment will be the two key factors to his success at the collegiate level."

He said Afthim's love of the game is evident. 

"Brady approaches the game as a game, having fun and doing so with a smile on his face. He also understands the 'winning" mentality,' which I believe is one of his key reasons to be the best he can be; Brady doesn't like to lose," he said. "Brady truly loves baseball and loves to compete, when these are mixed with a strong work ethic it makes for an exciting combination." 

The thing Afthim says he enjoys the most about playing baseball is the sport’s unpredictability.

“The best team doesn’t always win the game and the game can change at any time,” Afthim said. “The
biggest misconception about baseball players is that they are not athletic. “This may be an assumption in middle school or high school, but if you look at college and professional baseball, you have to be athletic to get to that level.  People also say that baseball is boring, but if you understand the game, you know that it is not boring at all.”

Going into his senior season at Windham, Afthim has been honored as the best high school player in Maine by the website Stadium Talk in their feature “The Best High School Baseball Player In Every State 2020” and he has strong expectations for the team.

I really hope we get a senior season since last season was canceled due to COVID,” he said. “If we do, expect us to be scrappy, get some wins and get into the playoffs.” <