When he announced his retirement in March, John Donato said he might not be done coaching. As it turns out, Donato’s retirement lasted around eight weeks.

On Friday, the Orono school board was expected to approve Donato as the new varsity girls basketball coach. Donato and his wife, Kelly, are planning a move to the Bangor area, where she is pursuing school principal opportunities.

“I still have the energy,” Donato, who coached the Lawrence girls basketball team for the last seven seasons, said.

If there’s any coach in the state who has earned the right to retire, it’s Donato. If there’s any coach in the state who has earned the right to never retire, it’s Donato.

In more than 40 years coaching basketball, Donato has 547 wins and five state championships, most recently with Lawrence in 2015. His Houlton teams won four state championships and nine regional titles in 18 years. Think of that. When Donato was coaching the Shiretowners, they averaged a trip to the state game every other year. That’s remarkable success.

Coaching is not easy, and with the advent of social media, pushier parents, and the year-round commitment no matter the sport, coaches like Donato who stay in it for decades are rare and getting rarer.

Moe McNally coached field hockey at Gardiner Area High School for 35 years. She won 407 games, two state championships, four regional championships, and a dozen Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference crowns. Frank Knight was head football coach at Waterville Senior High School for 24 years. He won two Pine Tree Conference titles. In each of his final two years, Knight took the Purple Panthers to the conference championship game. Like McNally, Knight retired from coaching after the 2013 season.

“I miss the practices. I miss the kids,” McNally said. “I didn’t realize how much of a commitment it is until I got out.”

McNally and Knight still love their respective sports. McNally stays active in the field hockey community doing evaluations for the Miss Maine Field Hockey committee. Knight will talk football anytime with anybody, and enjoys going to Husson games, where his son Luke is a member of the football team.

“I cherish watching that,” Knight said. “I miss it, but when I got done, I went out on my terms… If you’re a head coach and you want to be good, you’ve got to live it. I just knew I couldn’t do that anymore.”

It’s a decision the best coaches all have to make. When is the right time to make it the last time?

Jim Aylward recently retired after decades coaching football at Mountain Valley and Mt. Blue. Mike McGee retired from Lawrence boys basketball after the 2013 season with more than two decades of experience. Last fall, Mike Siviski paced the sidelines as the Winslow football head coach for the 32nd season. When these coaches are gone, it’s like losing an encyclopedia. That kind of institutional memory is never easily replaced.

Which brings us back to Donato, who now adds Orono to his resume, along with Houlton, Lawrence, Messalonskee, Mount View, and Hall-Dale. The Orono team Donato inherits won just five games last season and missed the tournament. Can he improve the Red Riots’ fortunes? That’s what keeps Donato coming back after all these years.

“The challenge of taking a program and making them a winner,” Donato said. “I’ll keep going as long as I can develop a program and my health is good.”

You can’t coach forever. So make sure you do it as long as you want to.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM