Working at Oak Hill High School every day as the head of its health and physical education department, Geoff Wright has worked to help students through the grieving process of losing their football coach, Stacen Doucette, shortly after last season while dealing with his own grief of losing his friend and mentor.

The shock of Doucette’s death at age 45 from a sudden illness last December has subsided, but players and his assistant coaches are still dealing with the aftermath three months later. With that in mind, Wright, an Oak Hill alumnus whose time as assistant coach there preceded the start of Doucette’s tenure in 2012, applied for the job.

In February, RSU 4 hired Wright, a 14-year teacher and assistant coach at the school, as varsity football head coach.

New Oak Hill football coach Geoff Wright.  Oak Hill High School photo

“This wasn’t a position that I saw myself in at this time, but given the situation, I wanted to make sure the kids had something stable,” he said.

Wright said players are still trying to deal with the shock and uncertainty that came with Doucette’s sudden passing. Winter sports provided an outlet for some, but some are still struggling to make sense of all that has happened while thinking their peers have moved on. The difficulty of getting them to open up is exacerbated by the image of the tough, taciturn football player who can’t share their feelings.

“When you’re looking at more than two months out (since Doucette’s death), I think some are assuming they should be beyond it,” he said. “Well, some might not be beyond it and they might not talk about it.”

The entire coaching staff plans to return with Wright. He is thankful that he and another assistant coach and former Oak Hill player, Brian Daniels, also a Phys. Ed and health teacher, are in the building and available to their students. Continuing that presence on the football field next fall is important, he said.

“One of the first things we did when we met as a staff to see where everybody is at realistically with their commitment to the kids and the program and whether we could go forward with that commitment,” he said. “The answer was a resounding ‘Yes.'”

“Change always scares kids. Change always scares a lot of people,” Wright said. “In my mind, stability is going to be key this year, and it’s going to be key beyond football. The kids are worried about change. Their minds are spinning 100 miles per hour. Anything we can keep similar or the same is in the best interest of all of us at this point in time.”

Hiring a replacement from within “wasn’t a factor,” Oak Hill athletic director Jim Palmer said. RSU 4 opened the job to potential candidates from outside the district, “but it’s a tough one to fill given the circumstances,” he said.

Palmer said he was fortunate to have a candidate as qualified as Wright who also was as familiar with the school, players and program as he is.

“We’re very excited to have Geoff stepping in,” Palmer said. “Geoff’s been here at Oak Hill a long time, going back to before Stacen came on. He’s seen the program at its highest and he’s seen the program at its lowest. He’s worked very closely with Stacen and has similar philosophies. He doesn’t have a similar style, necessarily, but he has the same priorities, which is doing whatever he can to help young people.”

Wright, 46, has taught and coached at Oak Hill for 14 years, serving as JV coach and assistant varsity coach to Bruce Nicholas and Dave Wing. He’s been a line coach and served as the Raiders’ defensive coordinator when they won three consecutive Class D state championships from 2013-15 under Doucette.

Oak Hill finished 5-5 last season, losing to Lisbon in the Class D South semifinals.

While the future of the Raiders’ coaching staff is settled, much of next season still remains up in the air with regards to opponents and schedule. Numerous Class D teams have defected to eight-man football, leaving just six schools across the state who played in that class last year — Oak Hill, last year’s state champion Lisbon, Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale and Madison from the South and Foxcroft Academy and Bucksport, last year’s regional champion, from the North. The MPA’s football committee is currently considering what to do next as part of an overall restructuring of football.

“I’m not losing any sleep over it because, ultimately, we just want to compete,” Wright said. “So whatever situation we end up in, we’ll embrace the challenge no matter what that might be.”

Wright said numbers in the high school’s football program are staying fairly consistent, ranging from the high-20s to mid-30s. Participation in the local youth program and at Oak Hill Middle School is strong, but Oak Hill joining the eight-man ranks at some point in the future can’t be ruled out.

“As long as we can sustain our numbers and keep our kids safe, I would prefer to stay in traditional 11-man football,” he said.

Palmer said Oak Hill has also hired a new varsity softball coach, promoting JV coach Don Theriault to replace Allyson Collins, who stepped down after eight years to spend more time with her family

 

 


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