BAR HARBOR — If you run — or jump, throw or vault — at Mount Desert Island, you know Aaron Long’s name.
Since arriving at MDI High School in 2015, Long has been a year-round staple of the school’s athletic programs. As both a head and assistant coach, he’s been a major part of cross-country, indoor track and outdoor track teams that always compete with the best.
“He’s so amazing and accepting, and he makes sure you’re not comfortable and always gets the best out of you,” said MDI senior Bella Brown. “He’s probably one of the most encouraging coaches I’ve ever met in my sports career because he wants you to do great and comes out every day with the most enthusiastic attitude.”
There are bittersweet emotions as Long, who is moving to the West Coast over the summer, nears his final season of coaching at MDI. With the first meets of the outdoor track and field season just two weeks away, the Trojans have the athletes to make their coach’s last ride a special one.
Long has spent six years as head coach of the MDI outdoor track and the same six as an assistant for the MDI cross-country team. He has also been the Trojans’ head indoor track coach since the 2018-19 season after being an assistant coach the three years prior.
Over that span, Long has received a number of Penobscot Valley Conference Coach of the Year awards and coached numerous title-winning teams. Yet many MDI athletes got to know Long prior to reaching high school as a result of his outreach in the area.
“Right after he moved here, I did a running club with him since I was in third or fourth grade, so I’ve been coached by him throughout the years,” said MDI’s Liam McKernan. “It’s kind of crazy to know to that this is his last year. However, I know that I’m going to get the most out of him that I can possibly get.”
The Trojans have certainly gotten that over that during Long’s tenure. The MDI boys’ team surprised many last year when it upset meet favorite York to win the Class B title. The state championship win was the second in three seasons for the MDI boys, who previously won the state crown in 2018.
The MDI boys will need some newcomers to step up this season after losing 12 of the 16 athletes who competed in last year’s state meet. The four returnees are Miles Burr, the indoor state champ in the 55- and 200-meter runs, as well as 2021 state meet participants McKernan (1,600-meter run), Ieuan Howell (triple jump, 4-by-100 relay) and Sam York (800-meter run, 4-by-800 relay).
“I think people know me well enough to understand that I will challenge and set high expectations for my teams, and this season is no exception to that,” Long said. “I feel that we will be extremely good this season on both sides. We’ve got a lot of very strong individuals in a wide range of events, and that is typically a recipe for team success.”
That’s also true on the girls’ side, where MDI is poised to have one of its all-time great seasons. The Trojans are bringing back 15 of their 20 participants from last year’s state championships, including Brown (discus, javelin, shot put), 400-meter state champ Callan Eason, Grace Munger (4-by-400 and 4-by-800 relays, 800-meter run) and Delaney Sweeney (discus, pole vault).
“We’ve got a really great girls’ team this year,” Brown said. “We have a lot of people coming back, but we’ve also got a lot of new, fresh legs joining us. We’re looking to have a lot of point-scorers this year, so we’re all really excited.”
Long, as Brown noted, always seems to get the best out of MDI athletes. This year, the Trojans are even more determined from the weight room to the track to the jumping pit as they look to ensure their head coach gets the proper sendoff.
“We just want to make him proud this year,” McKernan said. “We want to make him feel like we ended the year really well with him, and we want him to be satisfied with what he’s done for us as the coach of our team.”
MDI will get the chance to do that from the confines of home multiple times this year with three of the team’s five regular season meets set to take place in Bar Harbor. The first of those home meets will be the team’s season opener at noon April 22.
From those meets to championship season, the 2022 campaign stands to be an emotional one for the Trojans and their head coach. Yet Long, though grateful, wants the focus over the next two months to be on his athletes rather than himself.
“This being my last season, I’m mainly focused on the team being at their best when it matters most,” Long said. “I believe that coaching is all about the athletes, and they earn their notoriety. I don’t want to shift attention away from them.”