Spruce Mountain boys’ tennis coach Bill Acritelli shares a laugh with Owen Bryant during an indoor practice at Spruce Mountain High School in Jay in April. Acritelli is stepping down as the Phoenix’s Alpine and girls’ soccer coach. (Sun Journal photo by Tony Blasi)

Spruce Mountain coach Bill Acritelli speaks with one of tennis players during indoor practice in Jay.

Next fall and winter, longtime Spruce Mountain coach Bill Acritelli and his wonderful wife, Denise will be enjoying more of each other’s company. The couple spent the past two decades squeezing in quality time in between Bill’s coaching and raising two fine daughters — Emily and Allison.

Time had become the Acritelli family’s greatest adversary and the Phoenix coach knew it was time to slow down and take a timeout for his family.

You see, Bill Acritelli, 51, has enjoyed coaching two or three sports since Livermore Falls and Jay high schools combined eight years ago to form Spruce Mountain, but that left little time for the hard-working couple. Before coaching at the high-school level, the young father also mentored his daughters on Area Youth Sports teams.

With two daughters fulfilling their destinies, Bill Acritelli, who works in sales at the Ski Depot, recently stepped down as the coach for the girls soccer and Alpine ski teams. He will continue coaching the boys tennis team.

Allison attended Southern Maine Technical College and hasn’t decided on a major. Emily, a University of Southern Maine graduate, finished her second year at the Maine School of Law and  will graduate next year.

“I am an empty-nester now,” Acritelli said. “My wife, God bless her, has been putting up with this for over 20 years. It takes a lot of time, a lot of time that you are not home. It is time to relax and my oldest is now in her second year of law school. 

“She will graduate next year,” he said. “It is quite an accomplishment for her, somebody coming out of Spruce Mountain to be a lawyer. I have a lawyer in the family. It is crazy.”

There were times when he was on top of a mountain coaching the Spruce ski team when Acritelli, who was born in Massachusetts, raised in Carrabassett Valley and graduated from Mt. Abram High School, found himself thinking about his family. 

“I could be talking to my wife right now,” Acritelli said after spending many hours on top of a mountain. “She spent a lot of time at home alone — especially this year because we didn’t have any children (at home). She was always at kids games, always there rooting them on as well as myself. She was definitely the kids’ biggest cheerleader, always there supporting me.” 

A tough call

Giving up both sports wasn’t an easy decision. For Acritelli, the real joy in coaching has always been the teaching end and the strong relationships that followed over the past 20 years. 

“Now I see them get married, have kids. It gives you a good feeling you did something good for them,” Acritelli said. “My motto when I coach on any team is three things — family first, grades second and then sports. Your family is always going to be there, and grades, that’s what you are going to make your money on. 

“There is not that many kids who will make money on sports. A family type atmosphere is my goal in any sport that I coach. You have to have fun doing it,” he said. “When the school bell rings, you don’t want them dreading it. It’s a great community. My wife went to school in Jay. She graduated from Jay. We’ve been married 27 years and lived in Jay for 28 years. I want them to make memories that they can tell their kids and their families down the road.”

But coaching three sports demanded a great deal of his time, and being the dedicated coach that Acritelli is, there was the pressure that came with the job.

“Probably, more work and keep myself busy, spend a lot more time with my family,” Acritelli said of his plans. “That’s my No. 1 goal, and enjoy my time, sit outside and with my wife and not have to worry about going to summer soccer. 

“Go down to Cape Cod for a couple of weeks and not have to worry about who is going to be on the team. I am that type of coach … the night before a game, a ski meet, I just couldn’t sleep. Things just went through your mind and keep thinking of things, formations or if kids are doing this right. I have been blessed, for sure,” he said.

“Every sport, between parents and kids, I truly enjoyed the time, for sure,” he added. “Before, it was just skiing and soccer. They needed a coach. When I started tennis four years ago, I had three kids. All we did is play singles and now I am up to 13.  They deserve things like that after school. I would do anything for the kids. It is all about the kids and that’s what sports is all about, to me, anyway.” 

It started way back when….

Acritelli caught the coaching bug when he began coaching his daughters in AYS. As his daughters grew, coaching opportunities opened up at the high school level for him. His friend, Larry Thornton, who was coaching the Livermore Falls boys’ soccer team, asked Acritelli to help out with the club.

“That’s how it all started for me and it just went from there,” Acritelli explained. “My friend Kenny Jacques, he was coaching Jay, so when I did the Jay and Livermore cross county (teams) together, he did the Jay and Livermore Alpine (teams) together. 

“Kenny and I knew these kids when they were young, young. Even though it was two schools at that time, these kids were all good friends,” he said. “Skiing is a totally different sport than anything else, for sure.”

When the schools combined in 2011, more coaching gigs came his way at Spruce Mountain.

“I started with the boys’ team and my oldest had graduated, and at that point, and our kids were far apart in school, so they were never in the same school together, which made it easier,” he explained.  “I coached boys and… and I said to myself that I need to step back from coaching, so I stepped down as the boys’ coach, to watch Allison play. 

“You know, the boys always played on the same day, and at the same time, the girls’ coach had stepped down,” he said. “So I took the opportunity, and I obviously talked about it with Allison, first, and yeah, I took the girls’ job and I got to coach her for three years in soccer, so that was nice.”

He also coached Allison and the rest of the Spruce Mountain Alpine ski team to a Class B title in 2017. It was the Phoenix’s first state title after Jay and Livermore Falls were consolidated.

“I would like to take credit for that, but you know a lot of that had to do with the kids,” Acritelli said. “When we won that state championship and went into that second day, our goal was to do better — especially being 24 points down.

For all of them to collectively do what they did, it was a very special moment for them to bring the very first state title to Spruce, for sure,” he said. “Those kids skied together since the fourth grade. They won the state junior title and they did in it in high school.”

A legacy built on dedication

Spruce Mountain athletic director Marc Keller knows when Acritelli stepped down in two sports, he left an awfully big hole in Keller’s coaching staff.

“Oh, Absolutely,” Keller said. “It is always nice when you have a veteran coach like that who’s done it for so long and has such a great relationship with the kids. It really like the program runs itself.

“You start the season knowing the kids are always going to be respected and enjoy what they are doing and where they are playing and how they are being coached — and it is always nice to have that and not worry about it,” Keller said. “From an athletic director’s standpoint, there is never a point where I don’t know what’s going on. He comes in every day, checks on things…..what do I need to know. He just has fun. He enjoyed it. Like I said, it is going to be really tough to replace him. I am going to miss having him around for those two sports and hopefully he will decide to stay on coaching tennis.”

Acritelli, who credit former Mt. Abram boys’ soccer coach Art Potter for showing him the ropes, knows he will miss the kids who also enriched his life. His absence during the fall and winter seasons will be conspicuous, but he may make an appearance as a spectator at a game or two.

“Just because I am not coaching, it doesn’t mean I am not going to be watching,” the coach said with a laugh.

Acritelli knows it be hard for him to stay away.