Members of a YMCA swim team in Biddeford are protesting the firing of their head coach.

Swimmers on the Manta Rays, the team from the YMCA of Southern Maine’s Northern York County Branch, made signs and took to social media Wednesday with the hashtag “bringbackzach” to protest the decision to get rid of Zach Gray, head coach of the Manta Rays for the past two years and the 2015 Maine YMCA coach of the year.

Helen Brena, chief executive officer of the YMCA of Southern Maine, wouldn’t comment on the decision, saying it is “a personnel matter.” But Helen Griffin, board chairwoman of the team’s parent association committee, said the decision to leave was not Gray’s.

An email Tuesday from the branch’s aquatics director, Erin Andersen, with the subject line “Swim Team Updates,” announced that the organization “will be transitioning the head coach position,” but didn’t offer an explanation.

“We thank Zach Gray for his efforts as head coach this year and his contribution towards the successes of the team – numerous team records broken and a third-place finish at Y-states. We wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors,” the email said.

Andersen did not respond to a request for comment.

About 150 swimmers, ages 5 to 18, participate on the swim team, Griffin said.

“This is a tragic situation for our Y, for the Manta Rays, the swimmers, everyone involved,” said Griffin, who has two daughters on the team. “He was a great head coach for the kids.”

Griffin said one of her daughters has had three head coaches in the five years she’s been on the team.

“We just have this incredible turnover. It’s terrible,” she said.

Although she has not gotten an explanation for Gray’s dismissal from the Y, Griffin said, she’s heard that one reason was that he wanted to attend the national YMCA meet in North Carolina next week with a swimmer from the Manta Rays who qualified, but the organization did not want him to go.

The swimmer, 17-year-old Marshall Lowery of Arundel, said Gray sent her practice instructions Wednesday. “He still cares a lot about us,” she said.

Lowery said Gray has helped the Manta Rays become a competitive and spirited team for the past two years.

“His dedication and caring spirit really set him apart,” she said.

Lowery helped organize a protest Wednesday outside the Biddeford YMCA. She hopes there’s a chance he’ll get hired back.

Griffin said Gray is among several employees to depart the branch in Biddeford in the past year.

Gray did not respond to an email Wednesday. Griffin said he told her he did not want to speak to the media at this time.

A former swimmer at the University of Maine with a master’s degree in education, Gray previously coached swimming at Colby College and the Boothbay Regional YMCA, according to a biography on the Manta Rays’ website.


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