PORTLAND, Maine — For many years, Mike Connolly longed for an athletic director’s position. After seeing countless openings go to more experienced candidates, he’s finally getting his opportunity.
And it isn’t just any job.
Connolly is the new athletic director at Portland High School, the school with the most history in the state of Maine, dating back to 1821.
Connolly replaced Mike McCullum, who spent two years in the position before stepping down to return to his old job and spend more time with his family.
Connolly, a Scarborough native, has long been involved in the local sports scene and is very excited to become a Bulldog.
“I wanted to be an athletic director,” Connolly said. “That’s a career path I’ve been following since 2004. I was Gerry Durgin’s middle school assistant at Gorham for one year. It was a very good mentoring relationship. I thought he did things the right way. I saw the impact he had on his programs, the relationships he had with his coaches. That planted the seed. I’ve pursued jobs since then, but every one of them went to a current AD who moved into that role. I’ve been at Gray the past six years and filled the middle school role there. It was as good an experience I could have had without having the full piece.
“[Portland's] a unique school. There’s no place like it. To immerse myself in something different is something I’m very happy about. I’m very glad it turned out like it did. To be part of a program with this history is an important piece. I wanted to be around a program that had that long, entrenched history.”
Connolly, 37, played soccer, basketball and baseball at Scarborough High School. He was influenced by the likes of coaches Dan Costigan and Phil Martin. After graduating in 1993, Connolly went to the University of Maine, where he hoped to play baseball, but he soon realized it wasn’t going to happen.
“They didn’t want a 5-foot-9, 165-pound first baseman,” said Connolly, who was an education major.
After graduating, Connolly taught for seven years at St. Joe’s and Holy Cross in South Portland, spent that influential year in Gorham, then went to Gray-New Gloucester for six years. Connolly also coached at different levels, including three years of varsity baseball at Bonny Eagle.
“It was a good experience to run my own program, but it was a challenge from a commuting perspective,” said Connolly. “I was sprinting out before the buses to get out of school to get on another bus to drive to someplace like Marshwood. I enjoyed it. It was a learning experience, but I was at the point where I wanted to move away from coaching and go to the administrative side for a new challenge.”
During his time in Gray, Connolly served as the middle school athletic director, supporting, among others, Mel Craig, who became the Deering High AD last year.
Craig feels that Connolly will be a great fit for Portland.
“I had the opportunity to work with Mike for a few years and I have always been impressed with his passion to work with kids, his knowledge level of co-curriculars/athletics and his commitment to balance family and work responsibilities,” Craig said. “While taking Portland as your first full-time athletic administrator position is quite a challenge, I am fully confident that Mike is ready for the task and will succeed. I look forward to working with him on behalf of the kids in Portland Public Schools as well as the student-athletes in the [Southern Maine Activities Association].”
Connolly is taking over midstream, but can rely on a veteran coaching staff.
“It’s a huge benefit,” Connolly said. “When I looked at the coaches and number of years they’ve been here, I just don’t want to screw it up. It’s a really smooth transition in terms of working with the coaches. They’ve been tremendous. Thank God I’ve got Mike as a resource. He’s been really supportive. He left the program in a good position.”
Connolly knows that while Portland’s teams play at great facilities like Hadlock Field, Fitzpatrick Stadium and the Portland Exposition Building, there are issues inherent with those venues.
“Being off-site is an extra challenge,” Connolly said. “Dealing with the city to schedule and work around the Sea Dogs and Red Claws is a constant battle.”
Connolly and his wife, Melissa, live in Westbrook with their 4-year-old daughter Anne and 10-month-old son Quinn.
Connolly knows that juggling work and home will be a challenge as well.
“This is the first year with a second child,” Connolly said. “Until last year, I was the middle school AD and coached and covered events at the high school. I kept the scoreboard, did the announcing. That lifestyle was fairly common to us. With a second baby, it’ll be a challenge.
“I’d like to be in it for the long haul. The family issue is always on the back burner. This has been my goal for 10 years. I’m really happy to be here and I hope to make it a long-term relationship. That’s the best way to allow a program to build. By my fifth year at Gray, I was the longest-tenured person there, top to bottom. To have an impact, you have to be somewhere for a long time.”
Connolly does have one specific long term goal.
“I’d love to establish an Athletic Hall of Fame,” Connolly said. “Even though (Portland High’s great players and coaches’) names are out there, there should be a place that recognizes their contributions. It’s not something I can take on this year, but I’d like to address it in the near future.”
All in all, Connolly is still involved with the learning curve, but is enjoying the ride.
“I still know very few kids in the building, but I can focus on the supervision and following through on the work that’s been done and look ahead to winter,” Connolly said. “I’ve met great people already. It’s been enjoyable. A great experience so far.