The Alley family is deeply rooted at the University of Maine at Machias.
Its connection to the only four-year college Down East dates to 1960, when Ordman “Ordie” Alley Sr. of Beals Island enrolled at the former Washington State Teachers College.
Fifty years later, the Alleys’ most recent ties to the school were severed when UMaine-Machias unexpectedly announced Tuesday that it had suspended its intercollegiate athletic programs indefinitely.
As part of the move, Troy Alley, Ordie’s younger son, was informed his positions as associate athletics director, men’s and women’s basketball head coach and men’s soccer head coach had been eliminated.
Alley, a 1995 UMM graduate, had served in those positions for five years. His brother Skip is a graduate, as is his daughter Kali.
“I’m a little bit vested there,” Troy said with a chuckle while trying to keep the situation in the proper perspective.
“One of the things my dad used to say a lot to me, when something would happen to me and I’d think it was horrible, he’d say if this is the worst thing that ever happens to you in life, you’re going to lead one heck of a life,” Alley said.
Even so, Alley laments the end of his family’s affiliation with the university, which is home to approximately 650 students and offers 11 undergraduate degree programs.
Ordie Alley graduated in 1964 and went on to become one of the state’s most successful high school basketball coaches at Jonesport-Beals High School, home of the Royals.
Skip Alley, Ordie’s eldest son, graduated from UMM in 1991 and later coached its women’s basketball team. Troy is a 1995 graduate with a degree in secondary education and played basketball for the Clippers.
Troy’s wife, Bobbie, is a UMM grad as is eldest daughter Kali, who also was a member of the basketball team.
“As far as we could tell, we were the first three-generation family that attended UMM and played basketball,” Troy Alley said.
Yet from the moment Alley learned his fate and that of his student-athletes, he put his focus squarely on their needs.
Through their time together on the basketball court or the soccer field, riding the team bus or sitting in his office, lasting bonds were developed.
“What I just feel horrible about is [losing] these relationships, how close I’ve gotten to these kids,” Alley said.
The thought of having sports taken away had never entered the minds of Alley or the athletes, most of whom came to Maine from other states to study and play sports.
The news came Tuesday in an email and the athletes later participated in a Zoom video call with Alley to talk about what they should do next.
“One of them called me after the meeting from Los Angeles, California, and he’s like, ‘coach, what do I do? I’ve got nowhere else to go,’” Alley said.
Senior Caitlyn Lyons has made UMM her home during the last three years. The basketball player and biology major from Lubec has not only been left without a team, she has been separated from her teammates and coaches.
“We’re all kind of losing an extension of our own family, because that’s how we saw ourselves is as a family,” Lyons said. “We were all super close.”
Alley has embraced the student-athletes as though they were his own children. It was common for several of them to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas at his home in Jonesport.
Those relationships have been an important lifeline to him during what has been a devastating 2020.
On March 23, the Alley family lost its patriarch when Ordie Alley died in Machias after a long illness.
Three days later, Skip Alley’s daughter, Brittany (Alley) Estes, died after a brief illness at the age of 30.
“I can tell you that I wouldn’t have made it through last spring without them,” Troy Alley said. “There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t have multiple texts from these kids: “Hey coach, we’re praying for you, we love you.’
“They rode that emotional rollercoaster with me. Now to see them hurting and to feel helpless, I don’t even know how to describe it.”
Troy Alley is the reason some of the student-athletes decided to attend UMM.
After spending two years earning an associate’s degree at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, Matthew Kenna was looking last year for a place to study and play his final two seasons of basketball.
The Floridian was living in Portland and made a half-hearted trip to Machias for a campus visit. Kenna had already convinced himself that he would never attend the school.
A two-hour meeting with Alley changed his mind.
“When I left, I had already made my decision that I want to go there,” Kenna said. “Just meeting him in person and being around him I was like, whether I play 40 minutes [per game] or whether I play zero, I like his attitude and his mindset and I will play either one of those as long as it’s for him.”
Kenna said Alley’s long affiliation with and respect for UMaine-Machias were a source of inspiration and pride for the student-athletes. His standards became theirs.
“We had to live up to that or basically hit the road,” Kenna said.
Alley is trying to take things in stride as he transitions into his next opportunity. Basketball season is a long way off, but it could mark the first time in 26 years that he hasn’t been on a bench.
In the meantime, he’ll spend his summer days fishing on his lobster boat, “Trinity,” while remembering fondly the relationships he built with the student-athletes, staff and faculty at UMM.
His philosophy stems from the lessons he learned growing up with, playing for and coaching with his dad.
“I’ve told every player that played for me for 26 years, if the only thing I taught you was how to shoot a left-handed layup or how to box out or how to hit a jump shot, then I failed you miserably,” Alley said.
Excerpts from a note to Alley from former basketball player Cordale Addison of Tacoma, Washington, suggest the coach’s emphasis was on building a family.
“You’re the only person that believed in me and gave me a chance to pursue my hoop dreams,” Addison said. “Also being a great father figure and caring about the group of guys we had this year made it comfortable for me to adjust out in Machias.
“Love you, coach.”