DIXFIELD — Dirigo High School needed a proven baseball coach with a determination to continue the program’s winning tradition.

Ryan Palmer fit that description and was in the market for a coaching job nearer to home and work.

What seemed an inevitable combination was made official this week when Palmer was appointed to take over the reigning Class C championship club.

“I’ve already started preparing for the season,” Palmer said. “I don’t like wasting time.”

Palmer, 29, has spent the last decade moving up the Mountain Valley Conference coaching ladder.

He emerged as the leading candidate almost as soon as Dave Lafleur stepped down following Dirigo’s win over Calais in the June title game.

After his playing career at Mountain Valley High School and Central Maine Community College, Palmer was an assistant at Mountain Valley before leading the program at Mt. Abram High School in Salem for four years.

Mt. Abram went 25-39 in Palmer’s tenure, improving its record each season and qualifying for the Western Class C playoffs in 2009 and 2010.

Palmer resigned the Roadrunners’ post in June, citing job and time constraints. He works at Greater Rumford Community Center.

“It will help a lot,” Palmer said of the much shorter commute to Dirigo. “I’ll still be able to work (all) day and have plenty of time for practice in the afternoon. It’s close to home. My girlfriend is a teacher in RSU 10. It’s just a good fit all around.”

He isn’t sailing into uncharted waters at Dirigo. Palmer coached most of the Cougars on the Swasey-Torrey American Legion team over the summer.

“I had an absolute blast,” said Palmer. “I think it helped both sides of the equation. I got a good feel as to what the players can do in different situations, and they got a chance to see what kind of coach I am and what I expect.”

Dirigo won its first modern-era state title in baseball to go with a football state championship and basketball regional crown in 2009-10. Seven senior starters graduated.

Arik Fenstermacher and Spencer Ross are the lone full-time returnees. Fenstermacher, a left-hander, is expected to anchor the pitching staff with Ben Holmes.

“I’m very familiar with the players that are there and the ones that are coming up through the system,” Palmer said. “I’m really looking forward to the opportunity.”

Many of Dirigo’s younger players also starred on a team that reached the Babe Ruth state tournament in July.

“I love kids that just want to play baseball and work hard at getting better,” Palmer said. “There’s more to baseball than just playing the season. You have to work hard on your own and play during the summer to get better. The kids at Dirigo like working hard and have great work ethic.”

Palmer, who still plays on Sundays during the summer in the venerable Pine Tree League, hopes that his enthusiasm for the game will be contagious to the Cougars.

“I’m a coach who will preach fundamentals and work on them every day, but having fun is important, too,” he said. “I want kids to come to the field every day with smiles on their faces.”

As for his connection with Dirigo’s closest rival in the MVC, the Mountain Valley grad is quick to acknowledge his Dixfield ties.

Palmer’s uncle, the late Don Child, was a football and basketball standout at Dirigo in the early 1970s.

“He always joked around about me transferring to Dirigo when I was growing up,” Palmer said. “I guess he finally got his wish.”

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