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Friday, May 24, 2024

Windham student's speech wins state Speak Out competition

By Ed Pierce

A Windham High School junior’s moving speech about firearm violence won the state Speak Out competition during the recent Maine Lions Convention in Bethel.

Windham High School junior Molly Plati, center, is joined
by Camille Swander of the Windham Lions Club, left, and
WHS teacher Karyl Hazard after Plati won the state Speak
Out competition during the Maine Lions Convention in
Bethel. Plaati's speech about gun violence won a $500
cash prize. SUBMITTED PHOTO   
Molly Plati, 17, first captured the local Speak Out title sponsored by both the Windham and Raymond Lions Clubs, then won the regional Speakout level in Gorham to qualify for the state championship. In Speak Out, students choose a topic of local, state, national or international interest and research it to develop a four- to six-minute speech. The student speeches are judged for voice, enunciation, pace, appearance, construction, interest and replies to questions posed about their topic.

“My speech was about how stronger red flag laws could reduce firearm-related violence in the United States. I explored different regulations the government has explored and their effectiveness in lowering mass casualties,” Plati said. “Furthermore, I researched the different mass casualties that have happened across the United States, specifically in the last 10 years. I studied the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the Las Vegas, Nevada shooting, and finally, the Lewiston, Maine shooting on Oct. 25, 2023. I explored how mass casualties tragically affect the nation and how a reduction of these mass attacks can lead to a better country overall.”

During her speech, she said all of this cannot happen without public support for government research on assault weapons, as well as an increase in Red Flag laws.

“I presented this topic because of our research paper in my AP English class. The assignment was to choose a critical issue that we felt passionate about,” Plati said. “I chose this topic because gun violence is something that can affect every citizen in the United States. It has created unrest in students across the country, with an increase in school shootings each year. School is where we should feel safe, a place that is a second home, as some students spend more time in this building than at their own homes. With an increase in shootings done by assault weapons, student safety is jeopardized. All students deserve to feel safe at school, and I think increasing regulations and knowledge about gun control policies is how we can feel safe again.”

She said the most challenging part of creating this speech was delivering a persuasive speech about a sensitive and controversial topic.

“When preparing it, I did not know what kind of audience I was walking into and their various beliefs,” Plati said. “I tried to base my opinions on facts backed up by research, but delivering a speech on a controversial topic took a lot of work, as I could not predict how the audience would react. I was introduced to this project because we worked on a circle issue research paper in my AP English class. We worked on this project from late December to mid-February, resulting in participation in the Lions Club Level process. My teacher, Karyl Hazard had assigned weekly checks for our research progress. The method of researching, taking notes, annotating, and synthesizing into a final essay took around two months to complete.”

According to Plati, Hazard was very generous in mentoring me through this experience.

“She would not hesitate to allow me to practice in her room before, after, or during the school day,” Plati said. “She helped me refine my speech for every competition level and practice my public speaking skills standing on a podium rather than a stage. I practiced two to three times a week with Ms. Hazard and independently.”

Hazard says that Plati has clear strengths in English Language Arts as a reader, writer, and speaker.

“She has proven to be a conscientious, motivated, and dedicated student here at WHS,” Hazard said. “She is genuinely interested in learning, she is a doer, and she is a respected leader. These are all fabulous strengths that have and will continue to serve her well in life. The perfect complement to her academic, leadership, and performance strengths are her kindness and compassion for those around her.”

Gun control can be an emotional and heated topic to address publicly, especially for a teenager, but Hazard said researching this topic was important to Plati and her passion for it showed in the content and delivery of her speech.

“Molly’s love for and training in musical theater serves her well in public speaking,” Hazard said. “She applied her knowledge of rhetorical strategies from our class and her talent in performance to deliver a passionate and persuasive speech about the need for expanded gun control laws. Molly is quick-thinking and articulate, but she is also quite humble. Not only did she deliver her speech with passion and poise, but she also navigated the questions from the judging panel and engaged with members of the audience with maturity and ease.”

Camille Swander of the Windham Lions Club said everyone who has heard Plati’s speech has been impressed.

“We are extremely proud and impressed with Molly’s presentations at all levels of the contest. She demonstrated confidence, poise and was extremely knowledgeable about her topic,” Swander said. “She was approached by many in attendance at the state level, thanking her for her insight, her manner of delivery and her ability to really connect with her audience. We also want to thank all the students that participated at the local level of the competition. The topics were quite varied, and all students were wonderfully prepared to share their knowledge. Windham High School and community definitely should be proud as are we of these talented students we were lucky enough to meet and listen to their speeches through this program.”

Plati is the daughter of Josh and Heather Plati of Windham, and she received a $500 cash prize for winning the state Speak Out competition. She is a performing artist and actress and is also involved with the Windham High School Drama Club and One Act Play. She is an officer for the Windham Chamber Singers and a recreational dancer, taking classes at Atlantic Dance Arts in Gorham.

After completing high school, she plans to attend a four-year university to study communications, specializing in advertising and media studies and minoring in musical theater and public relations. <

Not forgotten: Memorial recalls loss of two World War II British pilots in Sebago Lake

By Ed Pierce

A gathering in Raymond 80 years and one day after a fateful crash during World War II remembered two British Royal Navy pilots killed while flying over Sebago Lake on Friday, May 17.

British Royal Navy Commander Vincent Owen salutes a new
memorial for two World War II British pilots who crashed
and died on a training mission over Sebago Lake in 1944
during a ceremony May 17 at Veterans Park in Raymond. 
Looking on is a contingent of U.S. sailors from the USS
John Basilone. PHOTO BY ED PIERCE       
Representatives from Great Britain and the United States dedicated a new memorial at Veterans Park in Raymond in the memory of the British aviators with two nephews of one of the lost pilots in attendance. The special ceremony included sailors from the USS John Basilone, the British Royal Navy, State Senator Tim Nangle, State Representative Jessica Fay, members of the Raymond Select Board, Raymond town officials and Dr. Peter Abbott, the British Consulate General for New England.

On May 16, 1944, a squadron of British Navy D4V Corsairs took off from Brunswick on a low-level formation training flight intended to give the pilots experience flying at low altitude over a body of water. Among the group of pilots that day were British Royal Navy Sub-Lieutenant Vaughn Reginald “Reggie” Gill, 24, who was flying aircraft JT-132, and Sub-Lieutenant Raymond Laurence Knott, 19, piloting aircraft JT-160. Both men were assigned to 732nd Squadron based at nearby Brunswick Naval Air Station in Maine.

As the formation passed over Sebago Lake near Raymond, Gill’s Corsair JT-132 suddenly banked sharply and struck the lake, sending a large plume of water flying into the air striking Knott’s aircraft, causing it to also crash into the lake. Within a matter of seconds, both aircraft quickly sank below the waters of the lake and disappeared. A military search and crash investigation began for the pilots using amphibian planes and U.S. Marines and a U.S. Navy diving bell was deployed in Sebago Lake, but no aircraft debris was ever found except for a Corsair D4V radio antenna and a small piece of an aircraft headrest.

The families of the lost pilots back in England were notified of the crash by telegram in 1944 and both pilots were declared missing in action by the Royal Navy.

In the 1990s, the Corsairs were discovered and photographed underwater in Sebago Lake more than 300 feet below the surface. A project was planned to recover the Corsairs but in 2003, a judge ruled that the aircraft and the pilots’ remains are not to be disturbed and considered to be war graves.

Last fall, the nephews of pilot “Reggie” Gill, Giles Bradley of Exeter, England and David Gill of Oxford, England, first heard about an effort to create a memorial for the pilots at Veterans Park in Raymond. “Reggie” Gill was born in India to British parents and had studied at the university level before wanting to serve his country as a Royal Navy pilot.

Bradley and Gill had heard stories through the years about their late uncle from relatives and both say they consider themselves fortunate to be able to travel to Maine and represent their family for the dedication. Surviving family members of Sub-Lieutenant Knott were unable to attend the ceremony.

“We think it’s amazing that they finally have a memorial,” Bradley said. “It’s a splendid occasion for such a fitting tribute.”

David McIntire of Raymond, the lone member of Raymond’s Veterans Committee and a retired U.S. Army officer, worked closely with James Normington, a representative of the British Commonwealth and Remembrance Project – USA to create a lasting memorial lakeside for the two Royal Navy pilots Gill and Knott.

A granite memorial was purchased from Collette Monuments in Lewiston and designed by David McIntire and Collette Monuments and approved by the British and Commonwealth Remembrance Project and the British Consulate General Peter Abbott.

Funding for the memorial was paid for by the British and Commonwealth Remembrance Project. That is a British organization situated in New England, which recognizes the service and sacrifice made by British and Commonwealth service personnel in times of war. Its volunteers help look after more than 200 British war grave sites throughout the New England area from World War I and World War II.

The day before the memorial’s dedication, the Maine Warden Service took “Reggie” Gill’s nephews out on Sebago Lake by boat and showed them where the Corsairs crashed, and where the planes sank below the water.

“We feel very privileged and honored to have done that,” Gill said. “And for us to be here on the 80th anniversary of the accident is very moving.”

The memorial dedication ceremony included speeches by Royal Navy Commander Vincent Owen and USS John Basilone Commander Carne Livingston.

Wreaths were placed on the memorial recalling the pilots’ ultimate sacrifice by Abbott and Peter Richardson, president of the British Officers Club of New England.

Normington said that dedicating the memorial almost 80 years to the day that the pilots died reinforces how difficult it was to serve in the military at that time.

“We remember what brought them here to Maine to begin with and we cannot forget,” he said. <

Friday, May 17, 2024

WHS senior places third in Maine App Challenge

By Kaysa Jalbert

Creativity was on full display in this year’s Maine App Challenge as a Windham High School senior, Alex Pooler, placed third among participants, winning a $1,000 scholarship from Tyler Technologies.

Matt Jones, software engineering manager for Tyler
Technologies, left, and Chris Webster, president of
Tyler Technologies' ERP & Civic Division, right, 
congratulate Alex Pooler of Windham High School
for placing third in the annual Maine App Challenge
for students. Pooler earned a check for $1,000 for his
app called Good Morning Class, an interactive
check-in app for elementary teachers and students.
PHOTO BY WHITNEY J. FOX PHOTOGRAPHY 
Pooler designed an app that makes it quick and easy for educators to assess a student’s well-being. He created the app called Good Morning Class, an interactive check-in app for elementary school teachers and students.

He says that he started working on his app idea in fall of 2022. One day at the start of his junior year, he was talking with a primary school teacher, Mrs. Farrin, who thought it would be a good idea to design an app to make it easier for teachers to check-in on their students.

"Last year I developed Good Morning Class using MIT App Inventor, a block-based coding program,” said Pooler. He first developed a prototype for the app and then tested it with the help of Mrs. Farrin. After testing, he revised the app to better fit her classes.

“This year, I developed version two in Python, a coding language, and Kivy, a graphical framework. This was a major improvement and difficulty, as I was still learning both languages,” says Pooler.

Mrs. Farrin would use a Google survey to check in with her students. Although it is a survey program, its design is not specific to an elementary classroom, leaving room for user error and confusion.

Pooler said that he wanted to make life a little easier for teachers and students through his creation and thought it would be a nice project for his high school Capstone.

Jennifer Pooler, Alex’s mother said her son has always been creative.

“Alex has been making games since he was very young, board games, card games, which eventually led to his interest in making video games,” she said. “I don't think Alex thought too much about developing apps until Mrs. Farrin suggested he explore that for his Capstone project, but it aligned well with his interests.”

Prior to working on his Good Morning Class app, Pooler says he had never developed an app before.

“In my sophomore year I took a computer science class, but most of what I learned was on the fly,” said Pooler. “In between last year’s submission and this year’s, I took an online computer science class.”

After high school, Pooler will be studying Game Design and Development at Rochester Institute of Technology.

“I can't wait to hear about and hopefully see the projects Alex works on at RIT and after,” Jennifer Pooler said. “My hope is that he'll build a solid foundation at college to be successful in developing video games or apps or whatever he decides to create.”

In addition to the scholarships, the top 10 finalists of the Maine App Challenge also received Beats Headphones and are granted a guaranteed internship interview at Tyler Technologies.

“I was very excited for Alex to win third place in the Maine App Challenge,” Jennifer Pooler said. “I was already so proud of him for putting in months of work to see it through, but I have to say it was really special to see him recognized by Tyler Technologies for all of the effort.”

The Maine App Challenge is a contest hosted annually by Tyler Technologies Inc., a Plano, Texas-based provider of software and technology services with around 1,200 employees in Maine. Each year, students develop their own mobile software programs that introduce them to science, technology, engineering, and math, also known by the acronym STEM.

Prior to the contest, Tyler Technologies collaborates with the Foster Center for Innovation at the University of Maine to host a series of free workshops for students to help with brainstorming, prototyping, and testing their applications. According to its website, Tyler Technologies also partners with the University of Maine on a Fundamentals of Innovation course available online to high school students as an early college course that allows them to earn college credits while designing an app submission for the Maine App Challenge.

Since its inception, the Maine App Challenge has gifted more than $100,000 in 529 college savings plans to students in Maine. <

Memorial Day activities in Windham taking shape

By Ed Pierce

Since 1971, the last Monday in May is designated as Memorial Day in the United States and it’s a holiday where all Americans can pause to reflect on and remember those who have been lost in military service to our nation. This year Memorial Day falls on Monday, May 27 and to mark the occasion, members of Windham’s American Legion Field-Allen Post 148 have planned a full slate of activities that the public can attend and participate in.

Memorial Day activities include a parade,
a ceremony at Windham High School
and a picnic lunch and gathering at the
Windham Veterans Center. The public
is welcome to attend and participate in
these activities. COURTESY PHOTO

For several weeks now, Legion members have been assisting in cemetery cleanups across the town. They also have been placing more than 100 American flags on utility poles on major highways in Windham as a reminder that Memorial Day is more than the annual kickoff of summer and the holiday honors those who have died defending America’s freedom and liberty. The flags will fly through Labor Day in town.

“This year the American Legion Field-Allen Post has its own set of memories as it celebrates 86 years of service to our veterans and the Windham community,” said Post 148 Adjutant David Tanguay. “The Post remembers it founders, World War I veterans, leaders in the community, who established it in 1938 to honor one of their own, Lt. Charlies W.W. Field of Windham who was killed in action while leading a charge against an enemy machine gun emplacement.”

Tanguay said that following World War II, the name Allen was added to its name remembering the ultimate sacrifice made by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. James Allen of Windham, who was killed in the Pacific Island campaign leading a patrol against the enemy forces.

“Both are local heroes, and both now are the namesakes of the American Legion Field-Allen Post 148-Windham,” Tanguay said.

According to Tanguay, the American Legion plans and conducts the traditional Memorial Day events and is looking for public involvement in staging this year’s Memorial Day Parade in Windham.

“The Post is asking the community to increase their involvement with floats or decorated vehicles to replace some of the more traditional entries that may not be available,” Tanguay said. “At one time in the past the Memorial Day parade was the largest parade in town. Let’s make the 2024 parade an event to remember.”

He said that teams of veterans will cover the 22 smaller cemeteries in the town to place new flags on the graves of all local veterans.

“On Saturday, May 18, weather permitting, teams of veterans and community members will meet at 9 a.m. at Arlington Cemetery in North Windham adjacent to the Fire Station to place the final 350-plus flags on the veteran’s graves,” Tanguay said. “For any families or groups interested in helping, this is a great opportunity for the community to have a teaching moment and share in the flag program.”

At Smith Cemetery in Windham, ROTC cadets from Windham High School will place flags on veterans’ graves there and will also put more than 200 flags along the Route 302 Rotary.

On Memorial Day itself, Windham’s Memorial Day Parade starts at 9 a.m. and runs from the Windham Town Hall on School Road and proceeds onto Route 202 in the direction of Windham High School.

“The best vantage point for viewing is from the area around the intersection of Windham Center Road and Route 202,” Tanguay said. “This year the Legion is asking for business and community support to make the parade truly memorable by marching or walking in the parade, entering a float or decorated vehicle, or offering a ride to a vet who may not be able to walk the distance. To sign up, call 207-892-1306.”

Tanguay said there is a need for open vehicles with convertibles preferred to provide rides for some of the post’s less ambulatory senior veterans.

At 10 a.m. in front of Windham’s Veterans Memorial Flagpole at Windham High School, a formal Memorial Day Ceremony will be conducted with the guest speaker being American Legion Past National Commander Vincent James Troiola, who now resides in Windham.

Master of ceremony for the event is Post 148 Commander Tom Theriault. Ceremonial events will include patriotic selections performed by the Windham High School Band, a wreath laying, bell tolling for Windham veterans who died in the past year and the ceremonial burning of tattered flags removed from veterans’ graves, followed by the traditional rifle salute and the playing of Taps. To wrap up activities that day, American Legion Field-Allen Post 148 will host an open house at noon at the Windham Veterans Center, 35 Veterans Memorial Drive in Windham, with a picnic-style luncheon open to the public. There will also be a brief wreath ceremony prior to the picnic in the Windham Veterans Center Memorial Garden. <

Friday, May 10, 2024

Mini horses making large impact at Riding To The Top

By Nicole Levine

Riding to the Top, Windham’s local non-profit therapeutic horse riding center, has welcomed two new mini horses, AppleJax and Apollo, to their farm.

AppleJax is a 9-year-old mini horse who joined
Riding To The Top Therapeutic Riding Center
in Windham last fall. He has carriage driving
experience and is expected to become part of
RTT's carriage and unmounted therapy sessions
along with RTT's school-based programs, field
trips, and summer camps. SUBMITTED PHOTO 
Riding to the Top (RTT) has been serving the Windham community for 31 years and offers services such as therapeutic riding, therapeutic carriage driving, equine assisted learning, and hippotherapy for individuals ranging in age from 3 to 90-plus. They assist with a wide range of disabilities.

Despite their size, mini horses are classified as horses and not ponies. They have a significantly longer lifespan than larger horse breeds, and can live into their 30s. Because of their size and calm nature, they are known to make fantastic therapy animals, providing individuals with comfort and companionship.

RTT has been home to mini horses for many years, however when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, much of the farm’s normal operation was up in the air.

During this time, a friend and donor of the farm was looking to find some companions for her own horse. The minis that were living at RTT in 2020 were then relocated and integrated into her herd. This became the mini’s new home, and it was later decided that it was in their best interest to stay where they were, and not relocate them back to RTT again.

The organization had continued to work with their generous friend, and began providing mobile field trips during COVID, where they would take the minis on the road.

“This proved to be very popular and we realized that the minis were easier to transport and less intimidating for people of all ages,” said Sarah Bronson, RTT’s executive director. “In 2023, we started looking to have minis at the farm again.”

Currently, RTT has two mini horse residents. AppleJax, who, following an assessment in Western Massachusetts was donated to the farm last fall, and Apollo, who is a new addition just this spring.

Both of the mini horses work with unmounted therapy sessions, and are planned to be an active part of RTT’s school-based programs, field trips, and summer camps.

AppleJax also has carriage driving experience and is planned to join the program for that at RTT in the near future.

Currently age 9, AppleJax has been doing very well on the farm. Bronson describes him as having a curious and adventurous personality.

“AJ's been working on his ‘office skills’ and is pretty comfortable visiting all of our staff in their offices,” she said.

Apollo is 17 years old and is continuing to adjust to his new environment, after arriving only a few weeks ago. He is a “free lease” horse, meaning he has an owner, but resides on the farm where RTT takes care of his needs.

Following protocol, Apollo was in two weeks of quarantine to ensure the safety and health of the rest of the herd on the farm. He's been doing well, and is slowly being introduced and spending more time with his new mini buddy, AppleJax.

Apollo is currently located in the mini paddock also known as RTT’s ambassador area. Although visitors do not have access inside the gated area, people visiting the farm can easily see the minis and can pet them through the fence.

RTT volunteers say that the minis are much less intimidating due to their size, which could serve as a great introduction to equine riding and therapy for those new to horses. Although less intimidating, they still need as much care and leadership to guide them, just as the other horses require, especially in any new circumstances.

The minis, like the rest of the horses, eat hay and grain, but in significantly smaller amounts. Their veterinary and farrier costs are roughly the same as the rest of the ponies and horses, which is estimated to cost around $5,000 per year.

RTT’s minis also require the same grooming and farrier care as the other horses at the farm.

However, due to their size, they require more flexibility from their groomers while picking their hooves and trimming their feet. By utilizing a pedestal, this process is made easier and more comfortable for AppleJax and Apollo. It is still one of the challenges that come along with grooming the minis.

RTT is excited to welcome back mini horses to their farm and programs. They make a wonderful addition to the diverse group of horses at the farm.<

“We believe that the minis will be a great fit to have at RTT again and are looking forward to being able to have them active in all sorts of programming.” explained Bronson. “Training is an ongoing process and involves lots of people handling them, working them in a variety of environments at the farm and then expanding their horizons to off-farm activities.”<

Wellness Walk inspires students at Raymond Elementary School

By Ed Pierce

Outdoor experiences have been proven to help improve academic and physical performance for many students and that’s the concept behind RSU 14’s Wellness Program. To demonstrate the benefits of being outdoors, Raymond Elementary School hosted a special Wellness Walk and Nature Talk on Tuesday, May 7.

Loon Echo Land Trust Executive Director
Matt Markot leads Raymond Elementary
School students on a Wellness Walk
and Nature Talk around Frog Pond in
Raymond on Tuesday, May 7. His visit
to the school is part of an effort by the
RSU 14 Wellness Program to inspire
children to get outside and love nature.
PHOTO BY DONNA MORTON 
According RSU 14 Wellness Coordinator Donna Morton, Loon Echo Land Trust Executive Director Matt Markot led students on the walk and promoted the idea that being outside is one of the best things that students can do.

Morton said Markot guided the students around Frog Pond near the school and answered their questions about the environment surrounding the pond and how it affects all of them every day.

“Not only did they learn about the eco system, but they also learned about how nature makes them feel better,” Morton said. “Hopefully it builds a lifelong love of the outdoors for the students.”

Markot was a great choice to lead the walk for the students. Prior to joining Loon Echo Land Trust in 2017, he worked for the Nature Conservancy in Maine as its Northern Maine Lands Steward, and he served as an AmeriCorps Environmental Steward with the Maine Natural Areas Program, and as an environmental educator at Kieve-Wavus. He’s been the land trust’s Executive Director since 2019.

The intent of having him come and talk to the students about nature and the outdoors is to have them love and care for nature,” Morton said.

The Frog Pond Trail at Raymond Elementary School is a family trail about 1.93 miles in length of easy to moderate terrain centered around a scenic nature pond. The trail offers a short walk to a pond with easy access for the whole family that connects to a trail network extending into the woods.

During the pandemic, the school set up an outdoor classroom space near the pond and other spots for teachers to gather with students for learning activities outdoors and Markot’s walk with students fit right into that outdoors theme.

The RSU 14 Wellness Program strives to show that time spent learning and playing in nature benefits the whole child and can help children attain their full potential.

Spending time in nature enhances educational outcomes by improving children’s academic performance, focus, behavior and love of learning, Morton said.

“Get Outdoors is the RSU 14 Wellness Theme for May,” she said. “There are so many benefits to bringing nature into wellness. Time outside brings mental and physical health. It elevates our moods while lowering blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and stress. Being outside raises levels of Vitamin D, helping to build strong bones and our immune systems. It just feels good.”

For children, access to safe, natural areas can enhance children’s physical and mental health, from improving cardiovascular vitality and weight management to reducing stress and ADHD symptoms. In addition, regular access to high-quality green space inspires strong connections to the natural world.

Morton says that outdoor play is not only beneficial, but also crucial for the brain's healthy development. Research studies have shown that the frontal cortex, which is responsible for controlling emotions and problem solving, is activated during playtime and imaginative play and child development go hand in hand.

Another area addressed by children being outdoors is childhood obesity. Morton says children playing outdoors are running, jumping, climbing, squatting, and rolling which are great forms of exercise and assist in motor skills development, a better sense of balance, and enhancing bone strength. And safe and protected exposure to sunlight helps keep children’s immune systems strong, Morton said. <

Friday, May 3, 2024

Windham women’s football player tackles new opportunity with Maine Mayhem

By Ed Pierce

Every time that Kendra Cummings of Windham walks onto the practice field behind Deering High School in Portland, she’s making history as part of a movement striving for women’s equality in sports.

Windham nurse and mother of six Kendra
Cummings is now in her second season of
competition as a defensive end and tight end
for the Maine Mayhem women's tackle football
team in the World Football Alliance.
COURTESY PHOTO
Cummings is now in her second season of playing tight end and defensive end positions for the Maine Mayhem, a women’s tackle football team that competes in the Women’s Football Alliance. The Mayhem provides opportunities for women ages 18 and over to play full-contact football, a sport traditionally dominated by male athletes and it’s something that Cummings welcomes.

“I became interested in playing after watching my daughter, Niyah, play youth tackle football in Windham,” she said. “The Maine Mayhem is the only women’s tackle football team in the state. We practice at Memorial Field at Deering High School and at the Portland Sports Complex during the snowy months. We practice twice a week for a total of five hours.”

A registered nurse at Maine Medical Center and the mother of six children, Cummings had never played football before suiting up last season with the Mayhem. The team is coached by former Bonny Eagle High School head football coach Bryant Oja.

Despite never having played previously, she caught on fast, racking up nine solo tackles and assisting on five others and recovering a fumble in a game against the North Connecticut Nightmare and running it in from 38 yards out for a touchdown. She also caught one pass for 29 yards during a Mayhem game at tight end.

While the mission of the Maine Mayhem is to give women the opportunity to both learn and play tackle football in an encouraging environment that focuses on the fundamentals and techniques necessary for a positive experience in football and life, it also offers a chance to win and excel on the playing field.

In 2023, the Mayhem team finished the year 5-3 overall and captured the Division III Northeast Regional championship, while advancing to the second round of the national playoffs. Even more is expected of Cummings and her teammates in 2024.

“I love football because it’s challenging and competitive. I enjoy being taken out of my comfort zone and it’s a nice stress reliever being allowed to hit people,” Cummings said.

According to Cummings, playing tackle football last season was stressful, nerve-wracking, and exciting because it was her first year playing and I didn’t know quite what to expect.

“This season, I’m hoping that we can make it all the way to the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio and win the Division III championship,” Cummings said. “Personally, I’m just looking to improve my game and contribute to the team’s overall success.”

Standing 5-foot-8 and weighing 178 pounds, Cummings says she’s learning more about the intricacies of football with each game she plays.

“The most difficult aspect about playing football is that there is so much to learn,” she said. “However, my coaches and teammates are so helpful and are good teachers.”

She says that her favorite professional football player is Rob Gronkowski, who played 11 seasons in the National Football League for the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“He’s the reason that I wear Number 87,” Cummings said. “Gronk was a big and strong player that could do anything. He was a great blocker and had great hands.”

In its first game of the 2024 season, the Mayhem fell to the New York Knockout, 24-6, last Saturday evening at Lasalle Institute in Troy, New York. The Mayhem will look to rebound with a win in its first home game of the year at 6 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Portland against the Connecticut Ambush.

“I think the team had some first game jitters, but we are ready to knock the rust off and make the changes necessary for success moving forward,” Cummings said.

Cummings says although her choice to play tackle football is a bit unusual, she’s sticking with it.

“Football has taught me that you’re never too old to try something new. Football has given me tremendous confidence and cemented my belief that if you work hard, anything is achievable,” she said. “My family, friends, and coworkers are very proud of me, and they also think that I’m a little nuts. I don’t disagree. However, I feel very lucky to have so much support.” <

Raymond memorial honors British pilots lost over Sebago Lake in 1944

By Ed Pierce

It’s recognition that’s long overdue and something that’s now firmly etched into the annals of Lakes Region history. On Friday, May 17, some 80 years later, Veterans Park in Raymond will be the site of a special dedication ceremony paying tribute to two long-lost British aviators who died in a collision over Sebago Lake.

A formal ceremony in Raymond dedicating a memorial to
two British pilots killed while in flight training over
Sebago Lake in 1944 will be held Friday, May 17 at
Veterans Park in Raymond. The event will include
representatives of the British military and of King
Charles III of Great Britain. COURTESY PHOTO  
Just before noon on Tuesday, May 16, 1944, a squadron of British Navy D4V Corsairs took off from Brunswick on a low-level formation training flight to give pilots experience flying at low altitude over a body of water. Among the group of pilots that day were British Royal Navy Sub-Lieutenant Vaughn Reginald Gill, 19, flying aircraft JT-132, and Sub-Lieutenant Raymond Laurence Knott, also 19, piloting aircraft JT-160. Both men were from Lee-on-Solent in Hampshire, England and were assigned to 732nd Squadron based at nearby Brunswick Naval Air Station.

As the formation passed over Sebago Lake near Raymond, Gill’s Corsair JT-132 suddenly banked sharply and struck the lake, sending a large plume of water flying into the air striking Knott’s aircraft, causing it to also crash into the lake. Within a matter of seconds, both aircraft quickly sank below the waters of the lake and disappeared. A military search and crash investigation was immediately launched using amphibian planes and U.S. Marines, and a U.S. Navy diving bell was deployed into Sebago Lake, but no aircraft debris was found except for a Corsair D4V radio antenna and a piece of an aircraft headrest.

Both pilots were subsequently declared dead and missing in action by the Royal Navy. Years passed and in the 1990s, the Corsairs were discovered and photographed in Sebago Lake more than 300 feet below the surface. During a court case in 2003 seeking to recover the aircraft, a judge determined that the aircraft and remains are not to be disturbed as they are considered war graves.

Through the decades since, thoughts of placing a memorial nearby for the pilots arose, but in recent years, that effort intensified.

Raymond resident David McIntire helped to spearhead the project through to completion.

“As a member of Raymond’s Veterans Committee, I think I became the likely candidate to work toward a solution for a memorial,” McIntire said. “I worked closely with the British representative from the British Commonwealth and Remembrance Project – USA, since day one, when he called the town in July 2023 interested in something as a remembrance for the pilots.”

McIntire says that he had heard the story about the pilots’ crash into the lake, but he didn’t realize that the pilots were British.

“At that point, I worked to come up with a suitable memorial for the two British pilots Gill and Knott,” he said.

According to McIntire, he said he feels the most significant aspect of the memorial for future generations of Raymond residents will be the work put in by town volunteers to help determine a design of an appropriate memorial to recognize the pilots and their loss and entombment in Sebago Lake.

“I believe Raymond has the only Veterans Park right on the shores of Sebago Lake where they died,” he said. “This has taken 80 years to place a lasting memorial, but I think the cemetery style monument is very appropriate, recognizing the sacrifice of the pilots during World War II.”

From a personal standpoint, McIntire said that he’s proud to be part of the initiative starting with an idea to somehow recognize Pilots Gill and Knott, and seeing it through to having an actual monument placed at Veterans Park to honor their loss.

“Unless people are aware of the crash in 1944, I think they would be surprised to read the inscription on the monument for the British pilots,” he said. “Because their remains were never recovered their location was classified as a War Grave, much like the sailors lost during the Pearl Harbor attack.”

Melissa McConkey, Raymond Town Administrator and Communications Director, said a dedication ceremony for the memorial will be held at 11:30 a.m. Friday, May 17 at Veteran's Park in Raymond and the public is welcome to attend the event.

The granite memorial was purchased from Collette Monuments in Lewiston and was designed by David McIntire and Collette Monuments and approved by the British and Commonwealth Remembrance Project and the British Consul General. Funding for the memorial was paid for by the British and Commonwealth Remembrance Project.

In an email with the U.S. Navy, McIntire said James Normington of the British and Commonwealth Remembrance Project has been the liaison for planning this event. He said descendants of Sub Lt Gill have been traced and a few of his family members will be at the ceremony. Normington indicated there will be 12 to 15 people flying over from England for the ceremony, including the British Consul General in his official capacity as the representative for King Charles III, members of the Royal Navy, The British & Commonwealth Remembrance, and The British Officers Club.

The British and Commonwealth Remembrance Project is a British organization situated in New England, that recognizes the service and sacrifice made by British and Commonwealth service personnel in times of war. Its volunteers help look after more than 200 War Grave sites throughout the New England area from World War I and World War II.

McIntire said Normington explained to him that there was a meeting between the British Consul General to New England and Maine Gov. Janet Mills and the subject of the World War II crash of the two airplanes into Sebago Lake came up.

“I think because Raymond Veterans Park is right off Route 302 and on Sebago Lake, we became a likely candidate for a memorial,” McIntire said. “I didn’t realize until I started researching the event of all the aviation support the United States provided the British during World War lI. As you know, NAS Brunswick hosted and trained many British pilots in US aircraft used in the war effort.” <