Yarmouth High boys’ lacrosse coach Jon Miller admits he was getting anxious before the Clippers’ first practice on Monday.

After all, it had been more than a year since Miller had been hired as the new varsity coach, and he still hadn’t been with his team in person. He was supposed to take over for David Pearl and try to guide Yarmouth to a second consecutive Class B championship. Instead, the coronavirus pandemic wiped out the 2020 spring season. So Miller, a former standout player at Yarmouth (2004 graduate) and an assistant coach since 2015, was stuck in neutral.

“It was so much anticipation leading up to it, and then on top of that, just the background of all the COVID protocols and daily screenings and how we have to use the field, it was like double stress level heading into that first practice,” Miller said.

“But once we were out on the field and running around and (doing) the drills, we adapted really quick.”

Miller is not alone. Across southern Maine, there are many first-time varsity coaches who were hired to take charge in 2020 but have yet to coach in a competitive contest.

Add in hires made after the 2020 season, and there is a significant influx of new varsity coaches since the last time teams took to the diamonds, fields, tracks and courts in 2019.

The pandemic will make it harder for new coaches, said Biddeford Athletic Director Dennis Walton, who counts himself lucky he didn’t have to hire any new varsity coaches for the spring.

“At least when you have experienced coaches, they know the coaching part, they know the expectations, and it’s just working through the COVID stuff,” Walton said. “If you have new coaches, I would think it could be overwhelming,” to learn pandemic protocols on top of the normal learning curve.

Eight of the SMAA’s 17 baseball programs have a different varsity coach than in 2019, perhaps most notably at Scarborough, the 2019 Class A champion, where former assistant Wes Ridlon has taken over for Mike D’Andrea, who is now coaching at Falmouth. In the Western Maine Conference, 2019 Class B South champ Freeport is under new leadership, as ar, Fryeburg Academy, Gray-New Gloucester, Sacopee Valley and Wells.

Deering and Gray-New Gloucester each hired a baseball coach for 2020 and then a different coach for 2021.

At Deering, Lake Region boys’ basketball coach Ryan Martin is now the varsity coach, replacing Colby Howe, who was hired to replace Josh Stowell. At Gray, Jon DiBiase takes the baseball reins from Jim Beers, who was hired to replace veteran coach Brad Smith, who retired after the 2019 season.

Softball coaching changes have taken place at Bonny Eagle, Cape Elizabeth, Deering, Gray-New Gloucester, Lake Region, Mt. Ararat, Traip Academy, Thornton Academy and Yarmouth.

Kristen Duross, a 2011 Thornton Academy grad who was a two-time all-Little East player at the University of Southern Maine, is Cape Elizabeth’s new softball coach. She was another coach who thought she would be starting in 2020.

“Honestly, it was very hard with the pandemic and being a new coach. I pretty much got to my athlete-parent meeting and that was about all that happened,” Duross said. “I was able to send them workouts weekly, but you couldn’t make anything mandatory.”

She said the year of inactivity left her “with really just this huge, anxious feeling. Is it going to happen? When will it happen? And I just got a tentative schedule for this year and I’m so happy about that.”

Girls’ lacrosse, tennis programs and track and field have also seen turnover, but not at the same rate as either baseball or boys’ lacrosse.

A third of southern Maine’s 33 established boys’ lacrosse teams (not including Traip, which is a new varsity team this season) have new coaches. That includes Jason Miller (no relation to Jon) taking over for his former coach, Don Glover, at Brunswick, and Peter Gerrity returning to North Yarmouth Academy, the 2019 Class C champion, where he coached from 2012-16. Like Jon Miller, both Jason Miller and Gerrity were hired prior to the 2020 season.

That was also the case for veteran baseball and basketball coach Tony DiBiase, the father of Gray’s Jon DiBiase. The former head baseball coach at South Portland and Portland, DiBiase had been an assistant at Falmouth for four seasons prior to taking the varsity job at Cheverus. He had planned a trip to Florida last spring as a way to get to know his new team. Then the pandemic hit.

DiBiase, 67, has been coaching since 1976. He’s a member of the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame (2007) and the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame (2020). Being forced to wait an extra year just made DiBiase appreciate beginning his next new coaching chapter even more.

“I felt the same excitement as I did 45 years ago when I started,” DiBiase said. “I’ve always tried to coach three sports, at least two. That’s what I am, an athlete, a coach. I don’t play a lot of golf, don’t have a great many hobbies. Coaching. That’s who I am.”

At Kennebunk, former assistant baseball coach Andy Coulombe took over for retired Brian Dill in a more orderly, traditional manner. Dill retired after being the Rams’ head coach from 1986 to 2020. Coulombe, a teacher in the Kennebunk system and the school’s swim coach, was the clear successor.

“We knew last year was going to be it for Brian going into the season. It was just unfortunate we ended up not having a season,” Coulombe said. “For me, the challenge is we basically have two freshmen classes. We don’t know half of our program. But there’s a lot of excitement. They’re happy to be playing, that’s the biggest thing.”


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