Bangor High School softball head coach Don Stanhope cheers on his players during a practice. Credit: Courtesy of Don Stanhope

Don Stanhope, who has been the head coach of the Bangor High School softball team for 16 seasons, is stepping down after this season.

Stanhope, who turns 55 on Wednesday, has directed his team to a berth in Thursday’s Class A North championship game in Augusta against Skowhegan.

He said he and his wife, Jeannie, have been looking to move to southern Maine to be closer to their two children, Sam and Alexis.

Sam Stanhope lives in Woburn, Massachusetts, and Alexis, who played for her dad at Bangor, is in New York City.

Don Stanhope, who will be teaching science at Biddeford Middle School next year, said it was a difficult decision.

“My wife and I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in weeks,” Stanhope said. “This softball program has been a huge part of my life and my family’s life. We’ve all made lifelong friends.”

He said watching the maturation of his former players into adults has been special.

“They have given me more than I have given them,” said Stanhope, who has been a science teacher at Cohen Middle School in Bangor, where he also has coached either its boys or girls basketball teams the last 16 years.

Stanhope has led the Rams to a 175-81 regular-season record (.684) and they captured the Class A North title in 2010 before losing to South Portland 1-0 in the state final.

Bangor has finished in the top three eight times in the final Heal Point standings.

Thursday’s appearance in the 7 p.m. regional final will be Bangor’s fourth in the last 11 seasons.

There was no softball last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stanhope said the relationships he built with the players and their families is the highlight of his career at Bangor High.

“We’ve had some very talented players and exceptional people but it is the time between games or before and after practices,” that were memorable, he said.

Bangor’s summer softball program took them all over the East Coast and he said eating with the players and their families by the hotel pool after playing four games in a day is something he will never forget.

Nor will he forget this season. The Rams endured three COVID-19 interruptions, including one during tryouts, and had to play 11 games in 13 days.

“Coach Stanhope has handled the adversity this season with patience and allowed the team to consistently demonstrate the ability to believe in each other,” Bangor High athletic administrator Steve Vanidestine said.

“The entire program is a credit to Bangor High athletics. Playing in a regional final is a great opportunity for coach Stanhope in his final season,” he said.

Bangor rallied from a 10-4 deficit to beat Brewer 12-11 in its last regular- season game on Lane Barron’s three-run homer with two outs in the seventh inning.

Bangor went into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed with a 7-9 record but came from behind to beat No. 9 Hampden Academy 5-3 in their preliminary round playoff game on No. 9 hitter Victoria Andrews’ two-run single in the fifth inning.

The Rams then upset top seed Messalonskee of Oakland 4-3 behind Jenna Smith’s eighth-inning homer and a game-saving catch by left fielder Ashley Schultz in the bottom of the eighth. They also knocked off No. 4 Brunswick 8-4 with senior Smith belting a two-run homer.

“It has been a goosebump year, for sure,” Stanhope said. “This team has given everything it has. I am very proud of them.”

Stanhope knows Bangor will have its hands full with a talented Skowhegan team that beat them 12-0 and 15-1 during the regular season, but the Rams have already defied the odds by getting this far.

“These kids are very competitive. That’s one of their greatest gifts,” Stanhope said.