Maine high school sports are struggling to retain coaches

By Larry Mahoney, Bangor Daily News Staff The climate of high school athletic instruction has changed dramatically over the years, according to Cliff Urquhart. “Gone are the days when a coach coaches the same team for 30, 40 or 50 years,” said Urquhart, athletic director and girls basketball coach at Southern Aroostook High School in Dyer Brook.

By Larry Mahoney, Bangor Daily News Staff

The climate of high school sports education has changed dramatically over the years, according to Cliff Urquhart.

“Gone are the days when a coach coaches the same team for 30, 40 or 50 years,” said Urquhart, athletic director and girls basketball coach at Southern Aroostook High School in Dyer Brook.

“It’s too demanding, too difficult and too frustrating,” he said. “Coaching in 2022 is a lot harder than it was in 1982.”

The result is a rising turnover rate for high school coaches in the state. There are 67 new boys and girls varsity soccer coaches this fall among the 130 schools fielding teams in the state, according to the Maine Soccer Coaches Association.

Some schools, such as Mount Desert Island High School and Fort Fairfield High School, will have new coaches leading both varsity teams. At MDI, Tyler Frank moved from coaching the boys team to the girls team, and at Fort Fairfield, John Ala returned as the boys coach after leading the girls team the previous four seasons. Ala previously coached the Fort Fairfield boys from 2004-17.

Foxcroft Academy, George Stevens Academy in Blue Hill, Mattanawcook Academy in Lincoln and Caribou are among the other schools with new leadership on both the girls and boys soccer teams.

“There seems to be a quick turnover of coaches in every sport these days,” said Brewer High School Athletic Director David Utterback. “I go into a partnership with a trainer knowing that their shelf life is probably five years or less.”

Some of the reasons Utterback cited for why coaches move on more quickly include new jobs, advancement in school administration, spending more time with their own children and negative interactions with parents.

Coaching also pays just $12.75 an hour, less than minimum wage, Utterback added.

“I’m surprised by the number of new coaches, but I’m also not surprised. There are better ways to make money. And you can make $15 to $20 an hour at other jobs,” Urquhart said.

Urquhart also said another reason for such high turnover is that there are fewer teachers available to teach, and that it is harder for non-teachers to make time to do so.

Bunky Doe, athletic director at Mount Desert Island, said non-teaching coaches are “losing a lot of money” because they have to take time off work to coach, unlike teachers who can coach after school .

Coupled with the labor shortage, it can be even more difficult for non-teachers to train because their employers are more reluctant to give them time off to do so, Foxcroft Academy Athletic Director Jackie Tourtelotte said.

All of the athletic directors agreed with Utterback that it’s much more challenging to be a coach these days than it was a few years ago.

“There is so much parental involvement now. That’s a big part of it. Coaches don’t get paid enough to listen [to parental complaints]Doe said.

Social media is also more influential in today’s sports, said Tourtelot, who quit Facebook because of comments posted by parents and others targeting coaches, players and officials.

Tourtelotte pointed out that people can record videos of matches or practices on their mobile phones so that coaches are always under the microscope.

New North girls soccer coaches include Brewer’s Phil Turmel, East Grand’s Gina Yeo and Schenck/Stearns’ Amanda Thompson, among others. New coaches on the boys side include Ashland’s Timothy Tarr, Ellsworth’s Mark Ensworth, Hermon’s Andrius Zeikus, Houlton’s Kerry Staple and Jonesport-Beals’ Shawn Johnson.

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