In this February 2019 file photo, athletic trainer Phil Mateja helps Alvin Beal of Jonesport-Beals to his feet after Beal was shaken up during the Class D North basketball title game against Schenck. Mateja has retired after 47 years. Credit: BDN File Photo

Phil Mateja has been helping people for 47 years, primarily as an athletic trainer.

He had been a fixture at the Maine Principals’ Association Eastern/North Maine basketball tournaments for 20 years.

But he has decided to retire and move to Saco where he will continue to be involved in the real estate business with his son, Jeff.

Mateja wanted to live closer to Jeff, his wife Heather, and their sons Parker, 7, and Chase, 4, who live in Scarborough.

Phil and Jeff have worked together in real estate for three years.

“It has been a good run. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done. It’s time to shift gears and go in a different direction,” Phil Mateja said. “The time was right.”

His wife of nearly 43 years, Judy, passed away unexpectedly in June.

Mateja has no desire to seek an athletic training job in southern Maine, saying there are far more athletic trainers there.

“I just need to get away and start over … enjoy my grandsons,” he said.

The native of Gurnee, Illinois, has compiled an impressive resume.

He was an athletic trainer at the University of Maine for 13 years and also worked at Brewer High School and Hampden Academy.

In addition, he was employed at Health South and at the paper mills in Millinocket and Brewer, where he dealt with safety and workers compensation issues.

Mateja also worked for chiropractor Tom Vanidestine and was the fitness director at the Bangor Y.

Phil Mateja Credit: Courtesy of Phil Mateja

Mateja learned his trade under hall of fame trainer Fred Wappel at the University of Missouri. He graduated in 1974 and earned a master’s degree from the University of Maine in 1977.

“I learned a lot at Missouri. Fred Wappel taught me a lot,” he said.

The 67-year-old Mateja said he has had a lot of great experiences and met a lot of great people while being able to travel all over the country.

“I made a lot of contacts and I have a lot of friends,” Mateja said.

He will especially miss the basketball tournaments. He would work more than 40 games each year.

“I loved that week,” Mateja said. “The camaraderie, the jokes. You knew everybody. You worked with them and knew them for so long, it was like a big fraternity.”

Mike Bisson, assistant executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association, was the former athletic director at Hampden Academy, where he worked with Mateja for five years.

“This is certainly a loss. I’m going to miss him,” Bisson said. “He started at a time when there weren’t a lot of athletic trainers in high schools and he was a pioneer for getting athletic trainers in our schools. Phil led the way.”

Bisson also complemented Mateja’s knack for working with young people.

“He was able to keep kids calm, even if they suffered a major injury,” Bisson said. “He did a great job taking care of kids.”

Bisson said Mateja handled every situation in a professional manner but knew how to lighten the mood.

“[He used] a little levity from time to time to keep [injured players’] minds off the injury,” he said.

“Phil has a great sense of humor.”