Thursday was Michael Daly’s first day in the office as Deering High’s athletic and co-curricular director. He hadn’t met coaches or students yet but already had a clear idea of his major goals.

Daly, 51, who has more than 20 years experience as a college coach and administrator, wants to increase participation and reverse the trend toward forming co-operative teams with city rival Portland.

Michael Daly

“My take on the big picture is to make sure we have our own teams, and to move in the direction of promoting sports and expanding opportunities, and encouraging our student-athletes to play multiple sports,” Daly said.

In 2018-19, boys’ basketball, boys’ tennis and volleyball were the only Deering teams with winning regular-season records among the 15 sports with a playoff format. Overall in those sports, Deering was 72-142-2. Portland had eight winning teams (and two with .500 records) and a combined record of 109-102-4.

Deering and Portland have co-operative teams in boys’ and girls’ hockey and, new this fall, field hockey. This past winter, Deering parents concerned about safety and declining participation proposed a merger of the schools’ football programs. That idea was shelved.

Deering’s expected 2019-20 freshman enrollment is 127 students, a steep decline from previous years, when the average incoming class was about 220. Portland, by comparison, expects 272 freshmen this year.

City students are allowed to choose which public high school to attend, including Casco Bay, which does not have its own athletic program.

“You want it to be an equal choice for families and the kids. You want to make it a difficult choice,” Daly said. “When it comes to athletics, you want to create two great opportunities, and for the Deering side, we need to put our best foot forward. When it comes to connections with the community, that’s very important.”

Daly said it’s important to remember that changes happen “with a dial, not a switch you can just flick.”

Portland Public Schools announced Daly’s hire July 30.

Daley replaced Melanie Craig, who announced in June she was taking a job as Dean of Students at Bonny Eagle Middle School after eight years as Deering’s AD.

“It’s a big job but I like that he had so much experience,” said Deering Principal Gregg Palmer. “He’s not naive about the job, but has a very calm, methodical outlook. I think Mel Craig did a great job, and we need someone to pick that up and keep it going.”

Daly, who lives in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, has spent most of his career working for colleges. As a women’s lacrosse coach, he won NCAA Division II titles at Stonehill in 2003 and 2005, and also had stints at the University of New Hampshire (head coach 2010-12), Merrimack, and most recently Saint Anselm.

He’s also been an assistant director of athletics at Stonehill (1998-2007) and Merrimack (2013-16).

Over the last four years, Daly shifted more of his focus to high school-age athletes. He coached the Haverhill (Mass.) High girls’ lacrosse team in 2016, winning conference coach of the year, and was the club director and recruiting advisor for Home Grown Lacrosse, a club program based in North Andover, Massachusetts.

“I was not only running the girls’ side but also advising boys and girls through the recruiting process, and the more I got into that, I really enjoyed working with high school kids,” said Daly, adding he came to the realization that, “I just want to help high school kids achieve their dreams.”

Daly said Deering reminds him positively of his own high school, Boston Latin, and not just because both are “purple schools.”

“Good strong academics where kids are achievers, but also the diversity of the student body is very similar to what I experienced at Boston Latin,” Daly said.

Daly said he “aggressively and passionately” pursued the job at Deering, seeking advice from Deering grads he knew, like Bates College assistant women’s lacrosse coach Lauren Reid Kane.

“(He) has a reputation of a hard worker and gets completely invested in what he does,” said Kane, a 2002 Deering graduate and co-owner of the Maineiacs club lacrosse program. “He just goes all in with tackling big, small and medium issues, and making them better.”

As the co-curricular director, Daly will oversee clubs and student organizations. He said his intention is to bring club and athletic leaders/captains together for what he called “leadership luncheons.”

“A lot of people get elected and they don’t know how to lead. It’s something you need to learn,” Daly said. “For me, one of my top-of-the-list items is to give them opportunities and teach them how to be leaders.”

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