Jim Leonard is stepping down as athletic director at Maine Central Institute. Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald

PITTSFIELD — When all eyes are on the live action, what happens behind the scenes can go unnoticed.

Sure, games and competitions are decided by feats of athleticism — who runs the fastest, who scores the highest and who jumps the farthest. Yet for those things to happen, it takes administrators who sit through hours of meetings, putting together the jigsaw puzzle that is modern scheduling and gathering input from colleagues, students and parents.

With the 2021-22 school year and sports season now complete, three of those administrators locally have left their positions. Maine Central Institute’s Jim Leonard, Oak Hill’s Jim Palmer and Skowhegan’s Jon Christopher have moved on with replacements having been named at all three high schools.

“I think for everyone, there comes a point where you just have to sit back and say, ‘OK, it’s time,’” Leonard said. “You get to a point where it’s time to move onto a new adventure and let someone new come in and take over.”

Leonard had been the athletic director at MCI since the beginning of the 2014-15 school year. He previously spent three years as the athletic director at Rockland High School and four years in that role at Oceanside High School, which was created via the merging of Rockland and Georges Valley high schools in 2010.

In Leonard’s first few years at MCI, the Huskies filled up the trophy case in multiple sports despite making jumps up in classifications. The football team won its first state title in Class D in 2016 before winning it in Class C the following year, and field hockey won the state crown in Class C in 2015 before doing so in Class B in 2017.


More recently, Leonard has been joined at MCI by his son, Jackson. Yet back in the fall, with Jackson Leonard’s graduation looming, the athletic director of eight years decided that he would be stepping down at the end of the school year and returning to the Midcoast area.

“I’ve been in education-based athletics for 15 years, and now that my son’s graduated, I wanted to do something different,” said Leonard, who is now a reporter for the Republican Journal in Belfast. “Most of my professional and personal life are back in Midcoast. … I worked as a reporter before, so it’s a familiar job.”

The football teams at MCI had two state championship game meetings with Oak Hill, where Palmer had been athletic director since 2011. The Raiders, who won three straight Class D state titles from 2013-15, reached those games under late head coach Stacen Doucette, whom Palmer had hired in 2012.

Jim Palmer is stepping down as athletic director at Oak Hill High School in Wales. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Although Palmer had been head football and baseball coach at Gardiner Area High School before leaving for Oak Hill, he had already been the Oak Hill Adult and Community Education director since 1999. Managing both that program and the AD role, he said, simply became too much with adult ed growing in size and scope and COVID-19 further complicating the picture.

“Those positions, they’re both of importance, and I felt like I’m not able to give both the attention they need,” Palmer said. “My first priority is adult ed. It’s grown a lot because you have a lot of people who want to come back and do that right now. I love it because I cheer for the underdog, and those people are all underdogs.”

At Skowhegan, Jon Christopher is stepping away from the athletic director position following his second stint in the role. Christopher had been athletic director since 2015 after previously serving as the school’s AD from 1996-2001, before the birth of his two children, Marcus and Jaycie.


Skowhegan Area High School athletic director Jon Christopher speaks during a ceremony in which field hockey players Lizzie York, left, and Maliea Kelso signed letters of intent on Nov. 18, 2019. David Leaming/Morning Sentinel file

Like Leonard, Christopher’s departure as athletic director follows the last of his children graduating high school. He will continue to be around Skowhegan athletics in a supporting role as an assistant to the athletic directors at both the high school and middle school.

“It just feels like I have given all that I can give for now and that it is time to step away,” Christopher said. “With both of my kids now in college and playing college basketball, I felt like I needed a less demanding job from a time perspective so that I can travel to watch them play during the winter months.”

Brian Jones, formerly an assistant principal at Lawrence High School, has replaced Christopher at Skowhegan. MCI and Oak Hill have also named replacements with head track coach Jason Allen taking over in Pittsfield and physical education teacher Brian Daniels taking the reins in Wales.

The athletic director job, Christopher, Leonard and Palmer all agreed, has changed greatly in recent years. In addition to the changing structure of Maine high school sports, shortages of coaches and officials and the problems presented by COVID-19, athletic directors today have an entirely new set of dilemmas to manage.

“It’s alarming (to see the direction of high school sports), for sure, especially with the coaches and officials,” Palmer said. “My hope is that we see high school athletics get back to the basics because, at the end of the day, it’s about the kids being able to compete and the community coming together.”

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