New Proposal Will Reestablish Old Maine Flag Design — Old News for Colby Cross Country

by Dominic Giardini

The Maine State Senate has proposed legislation to permanently replace the current state flag for the old design, which has not been in use since 1909. Discussions about potential implementation of the proposal have resulted in the possibility of launching the swap as a trial run, in turn using the original flag as a marker for the Maine’s bicentennial celebration in 2020. The bill, sponsored by Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, suggests an inexpensive transition in which flags throughout the state will be replaced by the original design once they become worn out.

Prevailing criticism towards the current flag design includes commentary that its contents, while rich with symbolism, are too numerous and indistinct, lacking a memorable quality and rendering the design difficult to identify with. The original flag avoids these shortcomings with its simplicity; it simply consists of an evergreen tree and blue star on a yellow background without any accompanying words. Re-implementing this design would provide residents a more recognizable state symbol.

Agricultural interests have pushed back against the new design because the figure of a farmer would be omitted if the current flag were retired, but former Maine public advocate Timothy Schneider argues that the design holds qualities conducive to Maine’s brand, especially for agricultural products.

As a consumer item, flags featuring the original design have been particularly popular, whereas the current iteration does not attract much attention, according to flag manufacturers. Such sales patterns suggest economic benefits will accompany an official move towards the star and tree design, bolstering arguments in support of the switch.

Within a small community at the College, a movement towards this original design has far predated the recent legislative action in Augusta. Jared Beers ’01, coach of the Men and Women’s cross country teams, has long been including the design as a logo for his athletes’ gear; it serves as an elegant and symbolic representation of the squad’s Maine roots. Whether it be on cotton t-shirts, warm-up long-sleeves, neck gaiters (also known as buffs), or most recently on the back of competition singlets, the flag imagery is hard to miss at a Cross Country practice, or even throughout campus as the athletes eat in dining halls or begin runs. Since almost all Cross Country athletes transition to Winter and Spring Track as well, the gear remains constantly adorned by an easily distinguishable group on the College’s campus.

The design fits aptly with the goal Beers had ascribed to the team for the 2018 season: an desire to “be the most respected team in the country,” with his runners proudly representing their geographical ties in the process of doing so. Three of his athletes, Helen Chavey ’19, Sophia Gorman ’21 and Eli Decker ’20, in earning the opportunity to race at this year’s DIII National Championship in Wisconsin, brought the icon with them to the largest stage in the sport, viewed by hundreds over live-streamed coverage.

The Echo reached out to Eli Decker, asking about his thoughts towards the old flag’s symbolic resonance as an athlete under Beers. Decker explained, “Before I came to Colby, I admittedly did not know much about the Maine flag or its history . . . Jared is a Colby alum and has lived in Maine his whole life. [He] has definitely given me an appreciation for Maine and taking pride in where we live and train. Not many people have tougher training conditions or more beautiful scenery.”

Decker continued by considering the versatility of the current state flag, saying, “For me, [the Tree and North Star] are a lot more powerful than if we had the seal from the current Maine flag on our uniforms or shirts. I bet very few people would be able to draw the current Maine state flag from memory. The simple, powerful symbols . . . as well as the history associated with them make me really excited to put on our uniform.”

Colby Cross Country is not the only running group in Maine to take logo inspiration from the state’s flags. Dirigo Running Club, founded in order to have “a solid team that could compete in the New England Grand Prix events” in Maine, derives its name from the state’s motto, located under the crest of Maine’s current flag. Dirigo is a Latin term that, means “I direct,” or “I lead.” The club has chosen to forego any iconography from the current state flag, instead placing their name within an outline of Maine.

In his support of the old design, Decker matches the sentiments and reasoning of lawmakers in Augusta who have expressed support for the 1901 flag’s reestablishment.