Perhaps the most recognizable person in the Portland High School athletic community over the past 15 years is moving on.

Audrey McKenzie, the school’s athletic trainer, but just as importantly, a cheerleader and counselor, is leaving to take a full-time position with Orthopedic Associates in Brunswick, continuing as an athletic trainer and dealing in part with athletes from Bowdoin College.

McKenzie, who started at Portland High in the middle of the final decade of the 20th Century, when Ray Mailman was the athletic director and before Fitzpatrick Stadium had artificial turf, said her decision wasn’t easy.

“I’ll miss the kids,” said McKenzie, a member of the Lawrence High Class of 1986 and a 1990 graduate of Marietta (Ohio) College. “It took me six weeks to make the decision. I think I was ready for a change and to try something new. This provides me with an opportunity for professional growth. The high school setting has been great, but there’s more out there to venture into. I’m excited and I’m anxious about it. There are tradeoffs. Now I’ll have weekends and nights free, but I’ll have to work summers.”

McKenzie worked at Maine Sports Medicine in Waterville out of college, then was an assistant athletic trainer at the University of New England for three-and-a-half years and the head ATC at St. Joseph’s College for a year-and-a-half before being convinced in part by Portland football coach Mike Bailey to join the Bulldogs.

She came to Portland Aug. 1, 1996 and found her calling. McKenzie has worked for four different athletic directors: Mailman, Gary Groves, Rich Drummond and Mike McCullum. When she started at the school, there was no lacrosse or girls’ hockey.

“It was the people that made it special,” McKenzie said. “The kids and coaches. I did my job and people let me do it. I had great ADs. All four of them. Great principals. I was able to work and do my job the way I was taught. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I’d do everything the same. It was a great ride.

“In  high school, you can make a difference in someone’s life. Some kids have rough home lives. It’s very rewarding to see kids transform and to treat the whole person. More so than just healing a sprained ankle. I love it when alumni come back and they’re flourishing.”

While there have been ample changes over the years, McKenzie’s presence has been a constant for the school’s athletes and coaches.

“What made Audrey so valuable to PHS was the way she handled student-athletes,” said longtime Portland boys’ soccer coach Rocky Frenzilli. “She not only treated their injuries, but she treated their psyches, making them feel that everything would be alright. As coaches, we knew she’d always make the right call on a players’ readiness and we trusted her without question. Her door was always open and she made all of us feel confident that our players were well taken care of. She is awesome, made Portland High a better place and will be sadly missed by everyone who knows her.”

“Audrey has been a fixture for Portland High School athletics for the past 15 years,” added McCullum, who coached baseball prior to becoming AD. “Her ability to connect with kids on and off the field is going to be extremely difficult to replace. Audrey worked circles around all of us and always did it with a smile. She created a safe environment for all of our athletic programs and had the respect of not only the kids, but the coaches, teachers and administrators at Portland High. What Audrey says, goes! She will be sorely missed by the PHS community and we wish her the best as she moves on in her career.”

In addition to her duties at Portland, McKenzie has long waved the banner for her profession at the state and even national level. She is in the midst of a second consecutive term as president of the Maine Athletic Trainers’ Association and has been the go-to person for her peers.

“I’ve seen the profession change,” McKenzie said. “It’s becoming more respected. Roles have changed a lot from taping ankles to focusing on rehab, concussion awareness and management and treating the whole athlete.”

“Audrey has not only been an incredible asset to Portland High School but to the district as well,” said Greg Tosi, the Deering High athletic trainer and a longtime colleague. “She has been there for the students, employees and the community. She will go out of her way to help someone in need.

“She is a great advocate for the profession. As the president of (MATA) she is always trying to move the profession forward in education to the public, the need for (athletic trainers) in all high schools and being fairly compensated for our services at all levels and venues of our profession.”

McKenzie said that she won’t disappear and wants to remain involved at the district and national level and might resurface from time to time at events.

“I wouldn’t have left Portland to go to another school,” she said. “Even a college. It had to be this kind of move.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

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After 15 years as the No. 1 Bulldog, Portland High athletic trainer Audrey McKenzie is leaving the school.