Saint Dominic Academy track coach Dan Campbell picks senior Emily Gerencer to show an example during the first day of track practice at the Auburn campus on Monday. Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover

AUBURN — Dan Campbell is back at the helm of a track and field program.

After being away from high school coaching since 2015 and having been let go as the cross country and track and field coach at the University of Maine at Farmington in February, Campbell is the new coach at St. Dominic Academy.

The 36-year coaching veteran to lead St. Dom’s cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field programs.

“I had parents approach me and say there was an opening and asked if I would be interested, and I had to think a lot about it,” Campbell said. “I haven’t missed a coaching year in 35 years. If I didn’t take this position, it would have broke my streak.”

But the streak wasn’t the reason Campbell came back. The former Edward Little High School coach had thought about his return to coaching for a while. Then his work as a counselor at Liberty Bay Recovery in Portland became heavy, and Campbell knew it was time for a switch.

“That’s my other passion,” Campbell said. “It didn’t work out for me. It could have worked out for me, I’ve had several jobs offered to me. There’s too many deaths, a lot of sadness, and I’m at a point in my life where I don’t want to be sad. I was doing it and I felt connected to God with the job I was doing down there, but God had a different plan for me and he said, ‘Get yourself back into coaching.’”

The job was offered to him and after some deliberation with loved ones, Campbell decided to return to coaching.

“I took it because I felt in my heart that I’m really not done,” Campbell said. “I’m not done with this. My wife said, ‘Dan, you’re not happy.’ And I said, ‘I know.’ I was missing something. I thought about it, prayed about it, then I got a phone call after I prayed about it and they asked if I’d be interested and I said, ‘I guess so.’”

Campbell will also become a history teacher at St. Dom’s (he has a degree in history and education). The full-time teaching job sealed the deal.

As for the team this season, Campbell sees a lot of bright spots. At the team’s first practice on Monday, there were three extra athletes from when the team took a count at the preseason meeting, making the roster size 17.

Campbell has given incentives to his athletes to try and gain as more runners, jumpers and throwers: Anyone on the team who recruits at least two athletes to join can choose one Saturday practice during the season to take off.

Right after announcing the incentive, Campbell had the team go right into wall-sits. He then asked the team, “Is everybody happy?”  A quiet response led to the addition of 10 seconds extra of wall-sits.

Campbell let the athletes stand after a louder response to the second time he asked the question.

Senior Emily Gerencer then helped lead the team through some warm-ups. Campbell has worked with Gerencer in Nordic skiing, so he knows what to expect from her.

Campbell expects Gerencer, who finished in 36th at the cross country state meet and was the runner-up at the Nordic Class A state championships, to help lead a small, yet solid team.

“As far as the team itself, you know me, I tell it like I see it,” Campbell said. “I call our team, ‘The mouse that roars.’ If you’ve been around track long enough, you know that you don’t need a lot of kids. What you need are a few talented kids, and that can make a major difference.”

Among the returning athletes is Sarah Brown, who finished third in the 800-meter run as the Class C state meet last June.

“We have a fairly decent women’s team in numbers,” Campbell said. “We have some sprinters along with some who are interested in weight events as well as a couple jumpers and a decent contingent of distance runners. I think we are going to fill a lot of the events, and that’s big.”

On the boys team, Mark D’Alessandro hopes to build off a runner-up finish at the Class C cross country meet, while Nick Welsh is looking to move up from last June’s seventh-place state finish in the 110 hurdles. Liam Levasseur, who finished 14th in the Class C cross country state meet, is also returning to outdoor track.

“On the guys side, we have two really decent distant runners who can actually do something and I have a really good hurdler who I think will do something, as well,” Campbell said. “Hopefully we bring in some more talent that people don’t see. We are going to be the mouse that roars, we are going to be something that people never saw coming.”

Having athletes in different events should help Campbell build a stronger program over the next couple of years, which is his ultimate goal.

“When I say, ‘What am I trying to do here?’ I say, ‘I am trying to build a team, I’m trying to recruit kids and make this something in the next two or three years,’” Campbell said. “People are going to look at St. Dom’s and say, ‘Wow.’”

A short-term goal, as he told the team at the start of practice, is to build toughness and team chemistry. As he did at Edward Little, Campbell is planning a trip to this year’s Boston Marathon. He’ll also use his connections to help the kids meet some elite runners.

“That’s a big thing for some of these kids,” Campbell said. “I’m going to introduce them to some people, some Olympic qualifiers, so they’re going to see some really cool people and we’ll have fun.”

At the Boston Marathon, Campbell also sets up a competition to make sure there is still a workout to be had amidst the fun.

“We also do what I call our ‘tough person competition,’ where we do nothing but wall-sits, planks and they can eat food. Then we go to the track and my friend Rusty Snow and I bring 200 bucks and we pay them,” Campbell said. “If they can run a 400 in a certain time we give them 10 bucks. And of course, you can’t puke.”

The expectations might not be too high this season, but Campbell is excited to work with the athletes who have decided to go along for the ride with him.

“They’re good kids,” Campbell said. “They’re solid kids with a lot of heart and they want to be here. They’re here for all the right reasons.”

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