The coronavirus pandemic and the related suspension of school sports this spring allowed Luis Ayala a rare respite to consider his big picture.
The longtime Foxcroft Academy wrestling and soccer coach typically spent his offseasons coaching both sports at the middle-school and youth levels.
“But all of a sudden everything got shut down,” he said. “Now sitting here on the weekends it’s different because I’m usually all over the place, so you ponder and think about things and I came to a decision — and it wasn’t easy because I’ve been doing it for 20 years.”
That decision was to step away from coaching completely, with family reasons the overriding factor.
“His dedication and the amount of time he has spent with both the high school teams and the youth teams in town are unmatched,” Foxcroft athletic administrator Tim Smith said. “And it’s not just the time he’s put in — he’s very good at it, too.
“He’s been a major, major asset to the athletic department.”
Ayala’s departure from coaching coincides with the graduation from Foxcroft of younger son Rico, who like older brother Tino played soccer and wrestled for four years of high school for their father.
“I was very fortunate to have both kids come up through the sports that I coached — wrestling and soccer,” Ayala, a health and physical education teacher at Foxcroft Academy, said. “The last eight years being involved with them has been great, and with Rico in his last year and the way the season ended with him in the state final, it took a lot out of me and I thought, ‘I think I want to get done.’”
The 48-year-old Ayala, a Quito, Ecuador, native who grew up in Sterling, Virginia, also was heavily influenced by the health of his wife Angela, who is battling Gulf War syndrome.
The couple met in Fort Benning, Georgia, as members of an Army medical support unit and subsequently were deployed to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s.
A spider bite while overseas ultimately led to Angela Ayala’s immune system being compromised, though it wasn’t until 25 years later when she was diagnosed with Gulf War syndrome — a cluster of medically unexplained chronic symptoms that can include fatigue, headaches, joint pain, indigestion, insomnia, dizziness, respiratory disorders and memory problems.
She has been undergoing treatment through the Veterans Administration, though those appointments have been pushed back recently by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“When things get back to it we’re going to be playing catch-up with the appointments,” Ayala said. “That was the other thing for me — being there for her when the boys are off to college.”
Ayala coached Foxcroft’s wrestling program to a 368-51 record and six state championships in 18 seasons — the Ponies captured Class C state championships in 2004, 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2013 as well as the 2016 Class B state crown.
His teams also captured 12 regional titles and 11 Penobscot Valley Conference championships, and he coached 39 individual state champions, 75 regional champs, 46 conference winners and one New England title holder.
Ayala also spent 19 years coaching the sport at SeDoMoCha Middle School in Dover-Foxcroft, was coach and president of the Foxcroft Youth Wrestling Club for 22 years and directed the Foxcroft Competitive Wrestling Camp for 18 years.
Ayala coached the Foxcroft boys varsity soccer team to 104 victories over 19 years, along with 15 seasons spent directing Foxcroft Youth Soccer and three years coaching at SeDoMoCha.
He was named the 2016 Penobscot Valley Conference coach of the year for his work at Foxcroft and last fall led the team to one of its most successful soccer seasons under his guidance — the 10th-ranked Ponies reached the Class B North semifinals after upending No. 7 Waterville 3-2 in the preliminary round and No. 2 Winslow 2-1 in the quarterfinals.
In 2017 Ayala was named winner of U.S. Cellular’s Most Valuable Coach contest from among thousands of coaches nominated around the country. Ayala chose the Foxcroft Academy athletic department to receive the $50,000 grand prize.
“I’ve always competed and I love to win, but you don’t do it for the wins,” he said. “Looking back the best memories come from the people I’ve met and the relationships. It’s been fun all the way through.”