Aug. 20—Pat Mooney stepped down as the head football coach at Mountain Valley at the end of 2018 to "recharge his batteries."
After three seasons with Mt. Blue as an assistant coach, Mooney is back with the Falcons, again as the head coach.
"It's awesome," Mooney said of returning to coach his alma mater. "It's my comfort zone. Not that Mt. Blue wasn't, because those kids and coaches were awesome. These upperclassmen, I've had most of them because I teach sophomore social studies here. There's also a familiarity with the coaches because most of them were here when I was here last time."
Mooney spent all summer game planning for the Cougars. Then the Falcons job opened up earlier this month because former head coach Devin Roberts, who replaced Mooney, became the transportation director job for RSU 10 and wouldn't be able to do that and coach.
After mulling whether to apply to his old job, Mooney formally applied last week, and then was interviewed Monday, the first day of preseason practices.
Mooney, who previously coached the Falcons from 2016-18, was hired that same day, and that night met with the team. Tuesday morning, he held the first practice of his second stint as Mountain Valley's head coach.
While Mooney, a Rumford resident, was interviewing on Monday, assistant coaches ran the Falcons' practice. Mooney called the transition "really smooth."
"The first couple days have been great," he said. "I like the makeup of the team, it's really positive. They all support each other, and when you only have 27 on the roster, your backs are up against the wall, so they're all working on making sure everyone feels welcomed."
Mountain Valley athletic director Jeff Pelletier told the Sun Journal that Mooney's prior head coaching experience set him apart from the rest of the applicant pool.
"We had some pretty good candidates, and I think with Pat it was his head coaching experience that set him apart," Pelletier said. "He had his first stint here at Mountain Valley and then left and coached at Mt. Blue, and I think he had some time to reflect on his time here, and learn from a new coach. I am optimistic that he's going to continue where Devin (Roberts) left off."
Mooney said his goal is to build the program enough that the school can switch from 8-man football back to 11-man, which the Falcons played during his last stint and when he was a player — he graduated from Mountain Valley in 2004, the year before the team won its first of three titles in fives years.
"I think the program is definitely on the rise," Mooney said. "I think our goal is to get back to 11-man. This is not a slight to 8-man, but our natural rivals are Lisbon, Oak Hill, Winthrop, the teams that we really want to see on a regular basis. We can't do anything until the participation goes up. We had 25 players suit up on the first day, and now we are up to 27, but we want to see improvements."
Mountain Valley decided in early 2020 to switch to 8-man football, which was first played in Maine in 2019. The coronavirus pandemic forced the 2020 season to be limited play 7-on-7 touch football. So 2021 was the Falcons' first year in the format. They finished 3-4 and reached the Small School semifinals.
Pelletier was hired earlier this year to be the district's athletic director, a job that was altered to also include overseeing the middle school sports teams.
Mooney said he thinks that the AD's different job description will increase communication between the high school and middle school, which can help establish feeder programs for the high school teams and fix the athlete retention problems that the school has faced in recent years.
"I think the big thing is, we've always had youth participation that's pretty good, but one thing we've identified is retention from middle school to the high school is low," Mooney said. "When you have 10 kids on the middle school team, you want eight of them to play high school but we've had the opposite. Out of 10, we only get two or three. We'll have kids play football from grade two to grade eight, and then never play again and we are left scratching our heads. We want to know what's going on culturally."
Growing the middle school and youth programs and the collaboration between them and the high school program are among Pelletier's top priorities.
"That was one of my big goals stepping into that position is connecting the two pieces and making sure that our programs are working with the youth programs in our area," Pelletier said. "Pat is going to work with the middle school and make sure there's communication. With our youth programs, the numbers are improving in the last couple years."
Mooney is optimistic, based on what he's seen during the first week of practices. While leaving the Mt. Blue coaching staff was a difficult decision, he said he's excited to be back in Rumford.
"I said this in my interview, it's like, I've had four years to sit back and reflect on my time here and what I could have done better and what worked," Mooney said. "Deep down, this is the place I need to be at, and I am happy to be back."
Mountain Valley has a lot of new head coaches this fall. Of the school's five teams, four made coaching changes.
Along with the late-summer hire of Mooney, Pelletier needed to replace himself as the girls soccer coach, a job he held for five years. He also needed to find a new boys soccer coach and hire the school's first new field hockey coach in more than two decades.
Kaitlyn Virgin, who participated in soccer, basketball and track and field all four years as Mountain Valley student-athlete, has been hired as the new girls soccer coach.
Dylan Cayer is the new boys soccer coach, replacing Martin Bell, who led the team in 2021.
Allie Belair has been chosen to take over the field hockey program that had been guided by Melissa Forbes since 1997. Bellair graduated from Leavitt Area High School in 2017 before playing at St. Joseph's College.
Adam Curato remains the coach of the golf team.