Jon Moro understands the head coaching position he now holds at Camden Hills Regional High School this season better than most who would have sought the job.
He played basketball for the Windjammers during the late 1990s and as a senior helped his team capture the 1999 Class B state championship. It was the first of six won during the 37-year head coaching tenure of Jeff Hart, who left that post earlier this year to become the school’s athletic director.
Moro also has been coaching in the area for the last 15 years, including the past four winters as Camden Hills’ boys freshman basketball coach under Hart, whose varsity teams at the Rockport school scored more than 500 victories under his leadership.
So while the challenge of replacing the 2018 Maine Basketball Hall of Fame inductee is formidable based on that statistic alone, Moro doesn’t see his new coaching challenge that way.
“Jeff’s just been a great mentor to me and a friend, so it’s not something I really think about a lot,” said Moro, who also is an accomplished artist and works as an educational technician at his alma mater.
Among the advice Moro has taken from his predecessor involves the patience required in the coaching ranks.
While Camden Hills became a storied program under Hart’s guidance, it took time for the former coach to establish his program as a powerhouse. All six state titles came during a 13-year span between 1999 and 2011.
“Something really important that he’s shared with me, and I think it’s true of a lot of coaches, is that oftentimes the most successful coaches have had break-in periods that have lasted years,” Moro said. “Part of what he told me was to focus on what you can do in the present moment.”
Circumstances surrounding the program have changed since Moro’s playing days.
More winter sports are offered at the school, providing student-athletes more choices.
“We’ve got hockey now. We’ve got an expanded skiing program. There’s winter soccer, so there’s all those other winter options, and we’ve noticed that overall the numbers have been lower,” Moro said. “Maybe that’s a natural thing, but I’m sure the fact we offer these newer sports has something to do with it.”
Camden Hills’ enrollment of just under 700 students places the school in the middle of the Class A basketball pack. That means most of the Windjammers’ opponents are larger schools under the state’s five-class system than they were when the program ruled Class B.
Camden Hills has had just one winning record in the past five seasons, an 11-7 finish two years ago. The Windjammers went 3-15 last winter.
“It also could just be that we defied the odds for a good decade,” Moro said. “We really defied that natural ebb and flow of success. For sure we’re in a bigger pool now, but also I think maybe the odds finally caught up with us in a sense.”
Moro is optimistic about his team’s future, thanks in part to a coaching staff steeped in the school’s basketball tradition. It includes junior varsity coach Joel Gabriele and freshman coach John Curtin, both former Camden Hills players, and longtime Windjammers’ assistant Tom Stammen.
Camden Hills has a youthful roster this winter with only a handful of seniors and a promising contingent of sophomores to help build for the coming years.
“We’re in really good shape,” Moro said. “It was neat being a freshman coach and seeing these groups come through, and you could certainly get a sense that we liked what was coming up.
“We’re pretty pleased with not only this year but the next several years.”
Camden Hills is 0-2 heading into Friday night’s home opener against Oceanside of Rockland, with road losses at Gardiner (52-47) and Medomak Valley of Waldoboro (62-46).
The Windjammers have averaged just 46.5 points in those losses, but Moro expects that to change.
“We definitely have some shooters so I’m not really worried about it,” he said. “I think we’re going to be competitive and hopefully make a run at some postseason play.”
And when Moro has a question about something related to his new post, the athletic director’s office is right next to the gym.
“Now I’ll go into his office and say, ‘Remember when we did this? How did we get into this particular set?’” Moro said. “It’s really nice to have him as a reference but also as a mentor in making my way through this first year.”