Most Valuable Coach Program Builds Community Connections

The best coaches do more than just draw up Xs and Os—they bring out the best in their players and inspire their communities. The U.S. Cellular® Most Valuable Coach program empowers their efforts by connecting these coaches to the resources they need to shine even brighter.

The winner of the 2017 U.S. Cellular Most Valuable Coach award is Coach Luis Ayala of Foxcroft Academy in Maine. Coach Ayala teaches 250 students each year, leading soccer and wrestling programs. Last year, he earned a $50,000 grant to help improve his community. Coach Ayala chose to donate the entire award to the Foxcroft Academy Athletic Department.

“Our community values the education and athletic pursuits of our students, but funding has been a struggle.”  – Coach Luis Ayala

In the spirit of this program, Coach Ayala teaches life lessons that extend far beyond the soccer field and wrestling mat. Chief among these is the value of hard work. In the underprivileged community of Dover-Foxcroft, this often means fundraising for equipment and tournament fees. “Our community values the education and athletic pursuits of our students, but funding has been a struggle,” Coach Ayala says. He’s even held his own fundraisers for uniforms, cleats, and wrestling shoes for students who can’t afford necessary equipment.

Despite the challenges, in his many years as a coach, he has impacted countless lives. Both current and former students as well as parents, colleagues and members of the community at large continuously praise his dedication to his students, citing instances where he went above and beyond the call of duty. As one former student declares, “[Coach Ayala] is the single most impactful mentor of my high school years.”

It’s no surprise, then, that a student spearheaded the effort to propel Coach Ayala into the top 15 finalists for the award. Numerous students and community members posted daily to Facebook to remind people to vote. Present and past athletes shared pictures and stories of Coach Ayala’s impact on their lives within their Facebook posts.

Coach Ayala’s ultimate goal is to provide his student-athletes with life-changing opportunities they would not otherwise have access to. “Many of my athletes come from single parent or underprivileged homes,” he says. “It has always been my top priority to make sure these students are provided for and given the tools to be successful.”

To that end, the grant has enabled Foxcroft Academy to furnish students with all the equipment they need, so they can focus on new opportunities, including national competitions.

The grant money has allowed the program to purchase uniforms for 80 youth wrestlers, plus new wrestling mats for the first time in 20 years. With wrestling gear and equipment taken care of, new students can sign up for the program without paying for uniforms and other expenses. The grant money also provides scholarships for individual athletes that attend camps, clinics, and educational or enrichment trips.

In addition, Coach Ayala flies his entire wrestling team to Virginia every 2-4 years to compete in tournaments with numerous large Virginia schools, most with enrollments much larger than his school. For many of these athletes, it’s their first time flying and traveling outside of Maine or New England. Coach Ayala also sets up educational opportunities on this trip, touring the nation’s capital, memorials, and other historical monuments in DC. The grant money provides a once in a lifetime experience for these wrestlers. 

As part of the nomination process, Coach Ayala wrote: “I have been blessed by my athletes over the past 18 years and I would be grateful to honor and provide for them with this grant.” Coach, U.S. Cellular is happy to help you give them many more years of your best.