Jeff Hart has worked at the same school for the past 37 years but is as much of a lifelong learner as he’s ever been. This summer he’s been making the transition from teacher-coach to athletic administrator at Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport.
“There’s a lot less for me to learn than for someone coming in that’s not from the district, but there’s still definitely a lot to learn,” Hart said Monday, just a week before his school’s fall sports teams begin preseason practices. “I’m learning something every day, but I’m enjoying it, I really am.”
The Farmington native and graduate of Mt. Blue High School and the University of Maine had been a physical education teacher at Camden Hills who during his winters since 1982 had guided the Windjammers to a rarefied status within Maine’s high school basketball circles.
Last winter, Hart became just the ninth Maine high school basketball coach to eclipse 500 career victories, concluding his career as the Windjammers’ mentor with a 503-229 record good for a .687 winning percentage.
“I’m going to miss the adrenaline rush you get from the games,” said Hart, who has been inducted into the New England and Maine basketball halls of fame as well as the Midcoast Sports Hall of Fame. “We all need something in our lives that gives us that adrenaline rush, and for a lot of years for me it’s been those couple of nights a week during the winter.”
Hart’s run of coaching success featured six Class B state championships, 10 regional crowns, 13 Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference titles and four undefeated regular seasons — all coming during an 18-year span from 1994 through 2011.
“I’ve got to work on other ways to find that adrenaline rush, but on the other hand, as far as the games go we had accomplished just about everything here we could have, really, with the success we had,” Hart said.
Hart steps into his new role as athletic director replacing Steve Alex, who resigned in the spring after seven years on the job to take a civilian position with the Air Force in Hawaii.
“It was just the right time for me, and I was in the right place at the right time,” Hart said. “I’d been thinking about it from year to year with basketball, and there are parts of it I’m really going to miss, but I was ready for the move.
“That’s a lot of consecutive years coaching, and I was ready for that change, and I was also ready for the change as far as the teaching part, so I made the decision and haven’t looked back.”
Hart’s successor as Camden Hills boys varsity coach is Jon Moro, most recently the program’s freshman basketball coach.
“Jon’s a familiar face,” Hart said. “He was a state champion here for me. He was an outstanding three-sport student-athlete here, and he already works in the building as an ed tech, so we’re really excited he’s on board.”
Moro was a guard on Hart’s first state championship team at Camden Hills in 1999, and another personal coaching highlight came 10 years later when the Windjammers won it all again with a roster that included his son Daniel.
“I’ve still got a picture of myself and my son in a big hug after that state championship game,” Hart said. “That one still gives me goosebumps.”
Yet another lingering memory is more basic to Hart’s relationship with the coaching profession.
“The practice time is what I enjoyed as much as anything,” he said. “I know you hear a lot of coaches say that but it’s true. You’re in the gym, you’ve got the door shut and you’re just teaching. You’ve got just your squad there, and the relationships you build through that I’m going to miss.”
Hart knows he won’t lack for ways to stay busy in his new role of overseeing not just the basketball teams he coached at Camden Hills and his two stints as the school’s head baseball coach, but all of Camden Hills’ athletic offerings.
“This is a whole different ball of wax,” he said. “It’s not just what people see. It’s all the work behind the scenes, the scheduling and getting referees and juggling all the balls that are in the air. That’s the part nobody sees, and people only notice it if you screw up.”
Hart said he enters his new profession benefiting from the lessons learned from those who previously served as athletic administrators during his nearly four decades at the school.
“I’ve worked right beside all the ADs I’ve had since I’ve been here and seen the mistakes they feel like they made and issues they dealt with,” he said, “so I feel like I was as prepared for the job as I could be without having done the job.”