by Eric McDowell, CoSIDA Past President
"It's not about me."
No, that's not a romantic song title or a famous political quote. It's actually a quote and really a mantra used by many a sports communications professional. These individuals are behind the scenes, working on adrenaline, fueled by coffee or soda, and a fiery charge in their hearts loving what they do with little or no recognition. Because their job is not about themselves, it's about the student-athletes whom they serve on their campuses and in their conference offices.
Bernard "B.L." Elfring defines "behind the scenes." He quietly and assuredly does his job, does it well, and has continued with the core values and duties of the profession with his old school ways while also developing along with new technology in the profession.
No individual honor is more rewarding in sports then to be selected to the Hall of Fame. The same holds true for the collegiate sports communications profession. This summer, Elfring, the University of Southern Maine Assistant Director of Athletics for Compliance & Athletic Media Relations, will take his rightful place on a plaque at the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, the home of the CoSIDA Hall of Fame. He will be inducted into the organization's Hall of Fame on June 28 at the Hall of Fame luncheon during the 2018 CoSIDA convention in National Harbor, Maryland.
To B.L., a reward is a "thank you" from a student-athlete, a call from a long-time colleague and friend while he deflects the content to "so, how are YOU doing?" Another reward comes from the respect from his supportive and appreciative athletic director at Southern Maine, Al Bean, who was thrilled when he got the news.
"I couldn't be happier than to see B.L. inducted into the CoSIDA Hall of Fame," said Bean, who hired Elfring in 1995. "What a great honor and so very well deserved. He's been in the business for nearly 40 years, and his work ethic is truly amazing, beyond expectation, and he is absolutely one of the most dependable and dedicated people I have ever had the pleasure to work with."
This story began in the late '70s, when a work-study student at the University of Maine spoke to then-SID Bob Creteau about working in his office. Elfring covered the Black Bears for the student radio station, and Maine's now nationally known men's ice hockey program's first season was in 1977-78.
"Bob, my mentor, took me under his wing and gave me the foundation to build a professional career. I never dreamed that a work-study job would lead to four decades in this business," said Elfring.
Then, the University of Lowell "took a chance" on him (those are his words, of course) and provided many memories from a program that transitioned from NCAA Division II to NCAA Division I in ice hockey during his time along the Merrimack River. His highlights there include four national team titles, including the sports of men's ice hockey (twice), men's basketball and men's cross country. The hockey team hosted the Final Four in Division II in 1982 and 1983. Lowell's arch rival, Merrimack College, featured a close friend and well-known name amongst CoSIDA circles, Jim Seavey.
"To say that B.L. has been a mentor would be a gross understatement. He has been a role model and someone who I have looked to emulate throughout my entire career," said Seavey, Mount Ida Assistant Athletic Director for Communications. "If you were looking to define 'professionalism,' his picture would appear next to the word. I've learned more from being in his presence than in anything I've ever done in the office, but more importantly, the friendship we have forged over the last 30 years is something I absolutely cherish."
Elfring moved back to Maine in 1995, taking over the SID role for the NCAA Division III Huskies in Gorham, which is located about 30 minutes inland and west of Portland, Maine's largest city and cultural center. The move was all about priorities.
"First and foremost, everything revolves around my wife and son. They certainly gave me a lot of time and space to be successful. Al and Bob Caswell (retired PR Director) gave me and my family the chance to come back to Maine and be closer to family."
The Huskies have captured one NCAA Division III baseball championship, the women's basketball team has won more than a dozen Little East Conference championships and earned four Final Four appearances, and the women's indoor track and field team has dominated the conference for nearly two decades while also joining the men's program with individual national championships. All proudly noted by their SID.
"I spent more than 20 years in this business being in the same conference as B.L., and there is no one I respect more," said Kent Cherrington, Director of Athletic Communications/Event Coordinator at Lasell College. "He is highly respected by everyone who knows him or who has ever worked with him, he is one of the best in the business.
"I always enjoy when one of my teams play at Southern Maine, because I know I will be getting top-notch treatment, whether that means accurate and timely reports, an excellent recap, and kind comments along the way."
Elfring received ECAC SIDA's Irving T. Marsh Award in Lowell in 2002. In 2013 he was the recipient of the National Association of Division III Athletic Administrators Transitional Athletic Administrator Award in recognition of his role as Southern Maine's NCAA Director of Compliance.
An example of how he puts others first came in the early '80's. He was approached by the outgoing SID at the University of New Haven, asking if he would be interested in the position. It was during the middle of Lowell's NCAA run and he did not have interest in departing. So, Elfring suggested the SID's lone work-study student to help get them through the year. That person later became full-time and owes Elfring a debt of gratitude as the mentor who placed him on the path that Elfring had taken and to this day, enjoys and thrives on.
So, all these years later, what provides his fuel for his tank?
"It's a combination of seeing the athletes and teams achieve their goals and seeing the athletes growth and maturity over their time in school. I still enjoy working with athletes and coaches.
"It's not about me," Elfring concluded.
Sorry, B.L. This time, it is. It's about all the lives you have touched, the people in the profession whom you led on the path and guided along the way. The student-athletes, thousands of them, who received recognition due to your tireless efforts promoting their talents. For one day, you will emerge from the shadows and the curtain, and take your deserved place on the stage. For June 28, 2018, and for the outpouring of support and impact you have made, it is indeed all about you.