Gordie Salls speaks with Sanford High baseball coaches before a game last week at Goodall Park in Sanford. Salls is retiring this summer as athletic director. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

As a young man, Gordie Salls searched for what he should make of his life.

“I grew up knowing what I didn’t want to be but maybe not what I did want to be,” said Salls, the longtime athletic director at Sanford High.

Growing up in rural Otisfield, Salls found comfort in playing sports at Oxford Hills High in nearby South Paris, where he moved when he was a junior in high school. But college wasn’t something anyone in his large family even considered.

“Everyone went into the service or got married and I didn’t want to do that,” Salls said.

After he graduated in 1979, he worked “all these odd jobs. Worked in a couple factories.”

In those years, it was the relationships he had forged with his high school coaches that gradually pointed him to a career ambition.

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“I was fortunate. Fortunate that the people I played for in high school saw something in me,” Salls said.

It wasn’t the most direct route. Salls graduated from the now-closed College of St. Joseph in Vermont nine years after he left Oxford Hills.

But it was the right route, one that sent him to Sanford High, in the hometown of his wife, Theresa. He started there in the fall of 1993 as a part-time AD being paid $5,000 and working as a substitute teacher. The next year, he was named Sanford’s full-time athletic director.

On Aug. 31, Salls, 61, will retire after nearly three decades in the role.

The value of extracurricular activities Salls learned in his youth has remained front and center, said Sanford’s football coach, Mike Fallon.

“I think he just really values the power of athletics and what it can do for young people and how it strengthens education for a lot of kids,” Fallon said. “To this day, Gordie talks about … his personal high school experience, the coaches that looked out for him and how powerful his own personal involvement was in high school sports for him.”

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Prior to going to Sanford, Salls was an assistant basketball coach, then the men’s head basketball coach and, from 1990-93, the director of athletics at the College of St. Joseph.

But while his wife was from Sanford, Salls came in as an outsider replacing Dick Faulkner, a well-established and respected figure.

“Any time you go to a new community and take over for someone who had done a great job, it’s always hard to step into those shoes, and especially with no one knowing you at all,” Salls said. “I would say it was a tough go in the beginning.”

Diana Walker had coached Sanford’s field hockey team for 10 seasons when Salls was hired.

“I embraced him as an AD. I thought he was fantastic,” she said.

“He definitely allowed you to coach your teams,” Walker said. “He had an open-door policy to discuss anything, but he wasn’t right there hovering over your practices.”

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Among his peers, Salls is viewed as a “voice of reason” and a leader, said Kennebunk Athletic Director Joe Schwartzman. Salls has had two stints as president of the Southwestern Maine Activities Association and was named the Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association’s administrator of the year in 2015. He served on numerous Maine Principals’ Association committees, including the Sports Medicine Committee during the pandemic.

“He has such a long history in the SMAA and working with the MPA on so many committees that he just has such a knowledge base about pretty much everything,” Schwartzman said. “He’s a leader. When I have a question, he’s one of my go-to guys that I call.”

Under Salls’ guidance, Sanford has hosted multiple statewide events, from wrestling championships to band competitions, both at the city’s older facilities like Memorial Gym and Cobb Stadium, and now at the large high school complex that opened in 2018.

“Even before we built the new school, I think he takes a tremendous amount of pride in our facilities and hosting our events and being welcoming,” Fallon said, noting people learned that events at Sanford would be “run with extreme efficiency and professionalism.”

Salls will continue to be in his office through the summer, then the torch will be passed to current assistant athletic director Zachary Lemelin, who has been announced to school staff as Salls’ successor. Salls and Lemelin have worked together for seven years and Salls has made sure to include Lemelin in all levels of administration, from game management and budget development to evaluation of coaches.

“I’m not running out of here. I’ve enjoyed my time here and worked with a lot of great people here and a lot of great people across the state,” Salls said. “It’s just time. Time for me to start doing some other things and having more time with my family.”

Gordie and Theresa Salls’ daughter, Emily, is getting married in October. Their son, Justin, and his wife, Erin, had their first child, a girl named Mackenzie, earlier this year. There’s a camp at Sebec Lake in Dover-Foxcroft waiting to be used more, a Harley-Davidson to ride with greater frequency, and hopefully more hunting and fishing trips.

There is one thing Salls will be glad to leave behind.

“I will not miss wintertime snow and rain. I will not care about the weather anymore after this.”


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