Longtime Deering wrestling coach Al Kirk, right, has stepped down after 39 seasons leading the Rams. The program will now be coached by a former Deering standout, Ryan Hutchins, left.

Deering has long been synonymous with wrestling success and the man most responsible for that triumph, longtime coach Al Kirk, has stepped down from the program he’s headed for 39 years.

That’s the bad news.

The good news for the Rams is that a former champion wrestler for the school, Ryan Hutchins, will replace his former coach and carry the program’s proud tradition forward.

Kirk, 77, who has coached for 50 years overall, said Monday that the time was right, but that leaving Deering gave him mixed feelings.

“I’ve thought about it for awhile and it’s time,” Kirk said. “It’s hard to leave it though. It’s been fun.”

Deering athletic director Melanie Craig raved about her outgoing coach and the influence he had on the wrestling program.

“You will not find a more dedicated coach and mentor than Al Kirk,” Craig said. “The number of young men whose lives he impacted is endless. He instilled work ethic, self-discipline and a willingness to learn. Kirk has mentored over 50 young men to compete at the college level and approximately 25 have gone on to be coaches themselves.

“His years of dedication to youth and our Deering community is unmatched by any other. While his physical presence will be missed in the halls of Deering, make no mistake that his legacy and presence remains with us as new youth come through our doors. May we all work to be the outstanding mentor and colleague that Coach Kirk has been to so many.”

Kirk, who previously coached at high schools in Florida and New York state and at community colleges in Arkansas and Florida, estimates he’s coached over 1,200 kids and won nearly 400 matches.

“We’ve had a lot of success,” Kirk said. “We had a national champion (Jon Kane in 2002), around 30 state champions and a lot of wrestlers go on and compete in college. Every year was a glory year for me. That’s because I’ve enjoyed helping kids become young men and develop a positive self-image.”

Kirk, who also had a long career at the University of Southern Maine teaching technology and environmental safety and health, believes that Hutchins will do a great job as Deering’s new coach.

“Ryan will bring enthusiasm and knowledge,” Kirk said. “He’s a good organizer. He was a state champ for me 20 years ago. He’s a wonderful young man.”

Hutchins was a four-year starter in high school, winning the Class A title at 125-pound in 1997. He started for two-years at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, wrestling at 125- and 133-pounds. Directly out of college, Hutchins started coaching at the Salisbury School in Connecticut. He eventually coached for two years at Scarborough High School and eight years at Westbrook High School. Hutchins was named Maine State Coach of the Year for the National Wrestling Coaches Association in 2010 after leading the Blue Blazes to their first and only regional title. He also is the assistant softball coach for the Maine Girls’ Academy/Falmouth co-op softball team.

“I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to be the head coach at my alma mater,” said Hutchins. “I am more humbled to follow a man who has helped over 1,000 student-athletes. It is impossible to overstate the impact Al Kirk has had. I will work hard to carry on our long tradition of hard work and dedication to teaching young men and women the sport of wrestling, but more importantly, to help them become strong and successful as people.”

Craig feels that Hutchins is a great addition.

“What better transition for a program with the same coach for 39 years than to have one of the proteges from that coach take the reins,” Craig said. “The task of replacing Coach Kirk at his retirement was a daunting one to say the least. These are big shoes to fill. Deering completed and internal and external search for a new head wrestling coach and one candidate rose to the top immediately. Ryan is Kirk-trained and a Deering alum with over 12 years of coaching credentials. There is no candidate more qualified to continue Coach Kirk’s legacy while starting his own than Ryan Hutchins.”

While the Kirk Era is over at Deering, it’s safe to say we haven’t seen the last of the legendary coach.

“It’s possible to say you’ll see me around the gym now and then,” Kirk said.

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

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