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FA’s Ayala earns finalist honors in U.S. Celluar Most Valuable Coach program

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DOVER-FOXCROFT — Numerous social media posts and signs around town have been encouraging the community and beyond to vote for Foxcroft Academy boys soccer and wrestling coach Luis Ayala in the U.S. Cellular Most Valuable Coach program. The efforts have paid off so far, as Ayala — who also coaches soccer and wrestling for various age groups — is one of 15 nationwide finalists now eligible for the Most Valuable Coach honor.

The get out and vote efforts will be continuing through mid-day on Tuesday, Nov. 14 to help determine the winner, but Ayala was presented with a $5,000 check for Foxcroft Academy during a morning all-school assembly on Oct. 16.

U.S. Cellular Local Marketing and Brand Activation Manager Stacey York began the presentation by saying, “We celebrate Coach Ayala and his moving on to the final 15 of the U.S. Cellular Most Valuable Coach program.”

The program had thousands of nominations, from there a group of 50 was chosen and then the field was narrowed down to the 15 finalists through daily voting at www.themostvaluablecoach.com. Ayala had over 13,600 votes during the recent round of the process.

Several speakers close to Ayala took turns at the podium with Chris O’Connell saying he has coached with Ayala and moved back to Dover-Foxcroft after having lived in Vermont and Texas. “The reason I’m up talking here today goes well beyond the wrestling mat,” O’Connell said.

He said his daughter dealt with a serious injury and “throughout that whole time Luis kep in touch with me,” despite O’Connell living out of state.

“He gives of himself, he is a selfless man,” O’Connell said. “You hear stories of him doing laundry, he’s coaching 10 teams, until 2 a.m.” O’Connell said recently his home was burglarized and Ayala soon after began organizing a fundraiser. “Who has time for that, he’s coaching 10 teams?,” O’Connell said, saying he has never seen Ayala get angry at an athlete or student.

Greg Niland said that many of those gathered in the gym may be unaware that Ayala is a veteran of the First Gulf War. Niland says he coaches at the youth level and when his own military duty calls him away from the area, Ayala steps in and assists the young athletes in Niland’s absence.

“His passion for this area, not being from here, and for the kids is unstoppable,” Niland said.

He said Ayala’s efforts go beyond just youth but also with American Legion Post 29 to carry on the organization’s traditions.

Ayala’s longtime wrestling assistant coach Terry Whittemore said Ayala has guided his five sons from elementary school to their senior years at Foxcroft Academy. “Knowing coaches across the state, there’s not another coach I would want to coach my sons,” Whittemore said.

He said this may be in part due to Ayala’s pedigree of developing state champion grapplers and teams, his knowledge of the sport and Ayala’s work effort, but “for me it goes way beyond any of that because Luis is real, I like genuine people.”

“In all of this I have not heard him promote himself and it’s we who have been promoting him and making noise and we are going to keep making noise,” Whittemore said. “Whether it’s a student’s grades, whether it’s someone having trouble at home or just a need, he’s giving unselfishly to them. That’s why Foxcroft Academy wrestling succeeds, he cares.”

Foxcroft Academy Head of School Arnold Shorey called Ayala “the busiest person in our community, and I don’t think I have ever seen him tired or rundown and that shocks me. He is always positive and pleasant.”

Shorey said Ayala’s student-athletes know they will be working hard, but they also know they will be supported with their coach’s can-do attitude.

Foxcroft Academy senior soccer player Levi Stedman said Ayala has “meant the world to me out of the field.” Stedman said he transferred to the school his sophomore year and Ayala took him and his teammates on the pitch under his wing.

“There’s no words to express how great of a guy Coach Ayala is and I want to thank him for that,” Stedman said.

“It’s amazing the possibilities for the community if we win this,” Ayala said, as the Most Valuable Coach will receive a $50,000 donation for their high school athletic department or a charity of their choice.

Ayala, whose wife Angela and younger son and Foxcroft Academy sophomore Rico were both present, said the night before he was driving through town and saw his name up on the illuminated Center Theatre marquee and seeing this and other signs around town and online has been amazing.

“What has been special has been the support on Facebook and the emails,” Ayala said, saying former players and students from years ago have been sending him messages of support and thanking their coach for the difference he made in their lives.

“I love Foxcroft Academy, I love the community,” Ayala said before being presented with the ceremonial $5,000 check from York.

During the day on Monday, including the Foxcroft boys soccer playing its final home game of the regular season, a camera crew filmed Ayala for a video to be posted at www.themostvaluablecoach.com.

Online voting will make up 20 percent of the final score in determining the U.S. Cellular Most Valuable Coach. A panel of judges, including Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, will evaluate the 15 coaches on their leadership qualities and the positive impact they have had on their community, school and players. The winning coach is scheduled to be announced at 1 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 20. In addition to the $50,000 prize, the most valuable coach will earn a trip for on-field recognition at the Under Armour High School All-American Game in Orlando, Fla.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
MOST VALUABLE COACH HONOR — Foxcroft Academy boys soccer and wrestling coach Luis Ayala, who also guides youth teams in each sport, is one of 15 nationwide finalists in the U.S. Cellular Most Valuable Coach program. Ayala was chosen through voting at www.themostvaluablecoach.com and voting for the top honor can be done for most of the next month. As a finalist $5,000 was presented to Foxcroft Academy on Ayala’s behalf and the contribution was given by U.S. Cellular Local Marketing and Brand Manager Stacey York, left, and Dave’s World U.S. Cellular Manager Ashley Hamilton during a school assembly on Oct. 16.

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