Wise Learning Center reflects namesake’s twin commitments to academics and athletics

The guest of honor arrives at the naming ceremony for the William B. Wise Athletics Learning Center.
Bill Wise arrives at the naming ceremony for the William B. Wise Athletics Learning Center in the Costello Sports Complex.

It’s payback time for Bill Wise. His support for University of Southern Maine Athletics as both a fan and administrator set a tone of success. When the opportunity arose to make him feel just as supported, former athletes and coaches made sure to be there.

They all gathered at the Costello Sports Complex in Gorham on October 14 to celebrate the naming of the William B. Wise Athletics Learning Center. The name was printed in fresh paint across the room’s back wall. Beneath it hung a photo of Wise and a plaque listing his many contributions to the University.

“It means a great deal to me,” Wise said from a seat at the center of the room. “I suppose you always wonder if you deserve the tributes and so forth. I like to think I did a little bit to help.”

Wise joined the University in 1966 as Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs. By the time he retired in 1991, he also served stints as Acting Dean of the College of Education, Acting Vice President for Financial Affairs, Executive Assistant to the President, and more. But it was through his role as Liaison to Athletics that Wise combined his passions for academics and sports.

“Knowing that you had people like Bill that had your back when you had to make some tough decisions was really crucial,” said Gary Fifield, former head coach of the women’s basketball team.

Athletic Director Al Bean draws attention to the plaque and portrait honoring the man for whom the William B. Wise Athletics Learning Center was named.
A plaque and portrait of Bill Wise grace the rear wall of the learning center.

Fifield’s coaching record includes 21 Little East Conference Championships and three appearances in the NCAA Division III National Championship finals between 1987 and 2015. He spoke at the naming ceremony to thank Wise for helping to create the family atmosphere that allowed his program to thrive. Baseball Head Coach Ed Flaherty echoed Fifield’s praise.

Also in attendance was Maureen Burchill Cooper from the Class of 1985. Wise’s encouragement on the basketball court fed her confidence. She would go on to set a program record with 2,357 career points at a rate of 22.1 points per game on average.

“Bill made a difference in my life,” Burchill Cooper said. “He was always welcoming and played basketball during noontime (break) with us like a father figure back then.”

Wise’s familial ties to the University are more than metaphoric. His sons, Bill Jr. and Brad, both graduated from USM. The two of them were at his side for the ceremony to share personal memories and lend a hand when needed.

The naming ceremony for the William B. Wise Athletics Learning Center drew a crowd of coaches, athletes, and members of the Wise family.
Coaches and athletes share stories of Wise’s legacy.

At 88 years old, Wise has lost much of his vision. Even up close, he has a hard time recognizing old friends until they introduce themselves. Wise eventually took a break from all of the congratulations to see the wall as best he could from a few inches away. Whatever he couldn’t make out, his sons described for him.

Beyond Wise’s dedicated corner, the majority of the room is taken up by cubicles where students can read or plug in their electronic devices, along with additional resources. The space is used primarily by first-year athletes to log the mandatory number of study hours in order to qualify for practice and competition.

The Athletic Department’s use of Wise’s name predates its connection to the learning center. The William B. Wise Scholar Athlete Awards Program launched in the 1987-88 academic year. The award goes to athletes who maintain a 3.0 or higher GPA through the fall and spring semesters.

About 20 students made the cut for Wise Award in its first year. The total rose to 256 in the most recent cohort. The award and the learning center both serve the same mission of academic achievement within athletics, further linked by the Wise name.

Bill Wise greets his many well wishers at the naming ceremony for the William B. Wise Athletics Learning Center.
Bill Wise greets his many admirers.

“It’s a nice legacy,” said Athletic Director Al Bean at the naming ceremony. “Students will come in here and see this. It’s nice to have tributes to people who have done a lot.”

The idea for the tribute to Wise started with Bean. His proposal won quick approval from President Jacqueline Edmondson. Two days before attending Wise’s ceremony, Edmondson was feted at her own ceremony where she was formally inaugurated as USM’s 14th president. Out of all those presidents, Wise worked directly with half of them.

The presenters had one more surprise for Wise. The photo of him that hung on the learning center’s wall was only a placeholder. A painting by Matt Donahue has been commissioned to replace it. Donahue played basketball at USM in the early 1970s, his athletic background making for a fitting match between artist and subject.