The Belfast Area High School wrestling team held its first practice without veteran coach Ted Heroux Nov. 19, with one of Heroux's former grapplers poised to take the reins of the longtime successful program.

Pending official approval of the Regional School Unit 20 School Board at its Nov. 27 meeting, Rick Kelley will be named the fourth coach in the history of the program.

Kelley, 48, replaces Heroux, who recently resigned after 45 years coaching the program. Kelley currently is leading the team's preseason practices.

Heroux took over the program in 1967 when then coach Harold Violette stepped down. Neal Wood is the only other coach in the history of the program. Wood led the Lions for three years in the late 1990s when Heroux took a leave of absence.

"It means an awful lot to me, being from Belfast and being part of that heritage, if you will," said Kelley of heading up the program. "I remember how proud I was to put on the blue and gold at that time. Putting that singlet on and then sitting there waiting to go out onto the mat and take on whoever it was, there's a feeling of pride that comes over you."

"I think Rick Kelley will be a nice addition to the wrestling staff as the head coach," said Belfast athletic director Mark Babin. "I think as a head coach he brings a lot of things that we have existing in our program and will further them along in a nice manner [and] carry on some of the traditions we have from the Heroux ages."

Kelley, a 1983 BAHS graduate, was a three-sport athlete for the Lions, taking part in football, outdoor track and field and wrestling. Kelley also won an individual state championship in 1982 for the Lions in the unlimited weight division.

In essence, Kelley knows what it takes to win an individual state title and hopes to help bring many more of those, both individual and team, to the Lions.

"I know what it takes to win and I know what [winning] feels like," the new coach said. "I want to do everything I can, and everything we can as a staff, to give our kids every opportunity to experience that."

Kelley's coaching staff includes Travis Spencer and Keith Holland, as well as Brent Waterman Sr., who is a volunteer assistant. Spencer was a four-time individual state champion for the Lions and is the school's all-time career leader in wins.

Kelley graduated from Norwich University in 1987 and 1988 with both a bachelor's and masters degree in physical education.

He was hired in the fall of 1988 as an elementary school physical education teacher for then School Administrative District 5, which was Rockland, Owls Head and South Thomaston (now those are part of Regional School Unit 13) and later became the physical education teacher at Rockland District High School, now Oceanside High School, a post he has held for 23 years.

Kelley also was the head football coach at RDHS and the outdoor track coach at Rockland for a few years in the late 1990s. He has been a volunteer assistant the past few seasons with the BAHS wrestling team as well as with the Lion football team this past season.

Kelley said Heroux had contacted him about being a paid assistant coach this season about two weeks before he made the decision to step down. Then, upon hearing Heroux was stepping down, Kelley threw his name in the ring for the head coaching position.

While he was one of the 71 individual state champions Heroux coached in his Heroux's long tenure, Kelley will not attempt to fill the shoes of the longtime Lion great.

"I'm not even going to attempt to be him," Kelley said. "What I do want to do, with the help of my staff because no coach can do it on his own, is I want to build on the successes that they've had at Belfast."

Kelley's involvement with the football team, which had a successful run, including knocking off No. 2 and three-time regional champion Leavitt of Turner in the Eastern Class B quarterfinals, this fall was one of the determining factors in his decision to coach the wrestling team.

"That kind of woke up something inside me that's always been there but has maybe been on the back burner," Kelley said. "We had a lot of excitement with that. It was a lot of fun working with coach [Chris] Bartlett and coach [Keith] Holland."

While keeping Belfast's winning traditions alive is top priority, Kelley said strength and conditioning, sportsmanship and mental preparation also will be paramount in his coaching methods.

Kelley recalled his high school wrestling days and winning "probably half my matches," though the matches he lost had more to do with his mental preparation, not physical.

"As I think back now, a lot of times [in my losses], I psyched myself out before the matches, confidence-wise" he said. "Just not believing in myself or believing in my skill-set or thinking, 'I've got to go wrestle this senior.' Mental preparation is a big part of it," Kelley said.

And the best way to assure mental preparation is with confidence, a trait Kelley will strive to bring to his wrestlers.

"High school sports, in my opinion, is about 90 percent mental, and 10 percent skill-set," Kelley said. "Now don't get me wrong, the 10 percent is huge, that's what we're going to spend most of our time in practice working on. But the mental piece is huge in high school. We're talking about teenagers here."

"I want those kids to step onto the mat really confident, knowing that they've been well-prepared in practice, they've worked hard so when they step out there, they wrestle to their potential. If we do that, I think we'll have a great season."

Kelley resides in Belfast with his wife, Donna, and sons Peter, 17 and Gabriel, 8. Donna is the BAHS swim coach, while Peter is a senior on this year's wrestling team. Kelley's daughter Paige, 20, was a three-sport athlete at BAHS and currently on the swim team at the University of Maine at Orono.

Courier Publications Associate Sports Director Mark Haskell can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email at