DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — The most “Most Valuable Coach” in the country resides in Dover-Foxcroft and works with student-athletes at Foxcroft Academy. Following the announcement last week Luis Ayala — who coaches boys soccer and wrestling at the secondary school as well as at the youth level in each sport and teaches health and physical education at Foxcroft Academy — was formally recognized Monday morning as the U.S. Cellular Most Valuable Coach during an all-school assembly, during which he received a $50,000 check that will benefit the two sports programs.

Thousands of coaches across the country were nominated for the honor last summer and a field of 50 semifinalists was chosen. Online voting played an integral role in the selection of 15 U.S. Cellular Most Valuable Coach finalists. As a finalist Ayala first earned a $5,000 prize for Foxcroft Academy, which was presented to him last month.

Online voting continued in determining the winning coach, making up 20 percent of the final score. A panel of judges, including Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, evaluated the 15 coaches on their leadership qualities and the positive impact they have had on their community, school and players.

Ayala, his wife Angela and their younger son and Foxcroft Academy sophomore Rico sat next to the podium as Foxcroft Academy Athletic Director and Associate Head of School Tim Smith began the presentation. He congratulated the school and the community for helping Ayala earn the honor.

“Your support has paid off and today we are celebrating the U.S. Cellular Most Valuable Coach, Luis Ayala.”

U.S. Cellular Local Marketing and Brand Activation Manager Stacey York then told the audience, “I could not be more excited to be back here to Dover-Foxcroft to honor and recognize coach Ayala as U.S. Cellular Most Valuable Coach.”

“I would like to present you a check for $50,000,” York said as she and Dave’s World U.S. Cellular Manager Ashley Hamilton handed him his second large, novelty check in a little more than a month. The second check was for 10 times the amount of the first. “I know these funds will be used to better the lives of student-athletes here at Foxcroft Academy.”

Ayala said during the selection steps he received emails from students and athletes of his dating back to the early 21st century, some of whom Ayala said he had not heard from in years.

“The support I have received from the community and the school has been tremendous,” Ayala said.

“All that made it worth it in this whole process,” he said.

Ayala thanked his family members for their continued support and recognized visual arts teacher Jane Blay for nominating him.

“It is more than I imagined,” Ayala said. “I enjoy living in Dover-Foxcroft, I enjoy the community and the way the community has embraced me has been amazing.”

Coach Ayala, accompanied by Rico, will be traveling to Orlando, Fla., in January to be recognized as the U.S. Cellular Most Valuable Coach at the Under Armour High School All-American Football Game.

“So please be sure to watch coach Ayala on TV,” York said.

Ayala is scheduled to be recognized on the field at the Jan. 4, 2018, contest featuring some of the nation’s top high school football seniors. The game will be shown on ESPN at a time to be announced.

“We are very proud and lucky to have a coach like Luis Ayala here in our area,” Smith said at the conclusion of the program.

After the ceremony, Ayala said that as part of the process for the U.S. Cellular Most Valuable Coach honor, nominees wrote an essay explaining what they would do with the $50,000 earmarked for a program of their choosing.

“So you look at the things I’m involved in, youth and high school soccer and youth and high school wrestling, and the things we do to help the kids and the things that we need,” he said, mentioning soccer and wrestling uniforms and equipment as possibilities for the $50,000.

“It’s very humbling the way the community’s been behind me, it’s very special,” Ayala said. He admitted that when he first learned of the coaching honor he never imaged getting to the point where he would win the national distinction.

“The whole thing has shown me I have made an impact on so many people,” he said. Ayala said winning state championships, having guided Pony wrestling squads to six team titles and his wrestlers to many more individual state crowns, has been special but what has been even more meaningful for him has been the impact made on the lives of his student-athletes.

“For me I’m not originally from Dover-Foxcroft, my wife grew up here,” Ayala said. “The people here they have accepted me, they have supported me. For a small community to get to this point, it’s special.”

Ayala said he continually tells his players and students to set high goals, and his being named U.S. Cellular Most Valuable Coach is proof of the lesson. “Enjoy what you are doing and you never know,” he said.

Originally from Ecuador’s capital city of Quito, Ayala grew up in Sterling, Va. He served as a combat medic in the U.S. Army, deployed to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the first Gulf War, and while in the military he met his wife, who is a 1991 Foxcroft Academy graduate.

For nearly two decades Ayala has coached Foxcroft Academy and younger boys soccer and wrestling teams, with many of his years coaching his sons Tino, a 2016 Foxcroft Academy graduate, and Rico at the various levels of their athletic careers. The elder Ayala has taught Spanish at both Foxcroft Academy and Dexter Regional High School and English as a second language before his current position.