WALES — Coaches often don't just retire.
They'll leave the game, only to be lured back again. What is intended to be a permanent step away often becomes just a brief respite. All it takes is an offer they can't refuse.
With the first day of basketball practice Monday, nobody was more excited to hit the hardcourt than Tom Morong. The former Morse High School coach is the new girls' coach at Oak Hill. After a brief break from coaching, Morong couldn't keep himself away from the game. Now, he's back, and feeling rejuvenated.
"I'm feeling a different feeling that I haven't felt in a long time," said Morong "The first 10 or 12 years coaching it felt like this. I feel like a rookie again. It's going to be a little different experience."
Morong has been chomping at the bit. He said the past weekend was like wanting his life to slip by just so that basketball practice would come.
"The good part about it is that we have the first practice," said Morong of Monday afternoon's session. "It's not like we have to wait all day. That would have been excruciating."
Morong coached at Morse for more than 20 years. His Shipbuilders were always competitive in both Eastern and Western A. Morse reached the Western A final twice and was a contender after moving to Eastern A. Morong stepped down after the 2007 season and took a year off. It didn't take long for him to miss the game — and miss coaching.
He tried to preoccupy himself by following his son Andrew's team at Poland. When his son asked him to coach an eighth-grade travel team, Morong jumped at the chance.
"It was really unique," said Morong. "When you're in one place for so many years and then you go to a different place and coach different kids, you realize it's pretty cool because they're all the same. They're just great kids."
The kids at Poland helped Morong find an energy and excitement for coaching again.
"Meeting the kids at Poland, it made me realize that it was fun all over again," said Morong. "Spending time with them this spring really lit a fire."
Morong toyed with the idea of getting back into coaching but couldn't decide. He likely would have helped his son with the Poland varsity, but the Knights didn't have any coaching spots that needed filling.
Then, Andrew happened to mention just before Labor Day that the Raiders were looking for a coach.
"My wife was kind of glaring at him, telling him to be quiet," Morong said, laughing. "I talked it over with her, and I applied."
The Oak Hill job was vacated by Dan Sabine last spring. The Raiders went 10-8 and just missed the Western B tournament.
Sabine had coached for four season and seen great progress in the team. The Raiders went 1-17 his first year and had won just five games over four seasons before winning 16 in the last two.
Morong looked into the job and had a great conversation with Bill Fairchild, the school's athletic director. With it being just a half hour commute from Bath, Morong couldn't turn down the opportunity.
"When I got done at Morse, it wasn't because I was sick of coaching," said Morong. "I just needed a break and maybe a change of scenery. The kids are great, but I don't know, it just wasn't easy any more. So I decided maybe it was my time to get done."
The Raiders lost some talent from last year's club, graduating seniors Carrie Hayden, Alex Donald, Samantha Wark and Ambyr Provost, but Oak Hill still has great potential and has just two seniors.
Junior forward Maggie Sabine led the team with 15.4 points per game last year and is a returning threat in the post. Fellow starters, junior guard Abby Goulet and sophomore Darby Beaulieu, are back. Donald and Hayden averaged more than 15 points per game combined and leave roles to be filled, but Morong is excited about the promise this team possesses.
"I'll need to get them playing some really scrappy defense," said Morong. "I think that will come. It's not going to happen overnight, but we'll get used to each other."
It's a unique situation for such a veteran coach. Typically, he's entered tryouts with sound knowledge about what to expect and how the team might shape up. When he had a preseason meeting, he only knew a couple of the girls.
"This will be the first tryout I've conducted in which I really have no idea," he said. "It will be a whole new experience."
With a resurging Raiders program and a rejuvenated Morong, Oak Hill could be a team to keep an eye in a very challenging KVAC B.
"I'm really looking forward to it," said Morong. "I'm just really excited to be in the gym."