DYER BROOK, Maine — Southern Aroostook High School baseball coach Murray Putnam, whose 44-year tenure includes nearly 480 victories and five state championships, has been placed on paid administrative leave by school officials.

“At this point that is accurate,” acknowledged Putnam, who said he has been on leave since May 15.

Putnam declined to discuss specifics of the situation but reports have surfaced that it might concern a possible hazing incident during the team’s annual preseason trip and the publishing by players of inappropriate photos on Facebook. Putnam is not believed to have been directly involved but as the head coach has oversight responsibilities over the team.

“At this point I really would prefer not to make any further comment,” Putnam said.

RSU 50 interim superintendent John A. Doe issued the following statement:

“I can’t comment on any specific personnel matter,” he said. “What I can say is that the number one priority of RSU 50 is the safety and well-being of its students.

“Any time there are allegations impacting this important priority we take them very seriously, investigate them fully and take prompt action to resolve them.”

Putnam said he has received no indication about when the matter might be resolved and if the administrative leave — which also involves his position as athletic director at the school, a post he has held for the last 39 years — might be lifted.

“I haven’t had any conversation with anyone about that,” said Putnam, who formally retired from education in 2008 and now is paid a stipend for his work as athletic director and a stipend for his baseball coaching duties.

Putnam has coached high school baseball in the region since 1968, when he took over the program at the former Oakfield Community High School.

When that school and several others were consolidated into Southern Aroostook during the 1970s, he moved to the combined school and has remained there ever since.

Putnam has guided the school’s baseball team to 10 Eastern Maine championships and Class D state titles in 1984, 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1999.

Southern Aroostook — which serves the communities of Crystal, Dyer Brook, Island Falls, Merrill, Oakfield and Smyrna — has remained among the elite baseball programs in Eastern D in recent years, advancing to the regional championship game in 2008 and to the semifinals in 2010 and 2011, when the Warriors compiled a 15-2 record.

This spring the team is 9-3 and ranked second in Eastern Maine Class D, with its regular-season finale scheduled for Saturday at home against Woodland on the Murray W. Putnam Baseball Field.

Among his individual honors, Putnam is a 2002 inductee into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame and the recipient of the 2006 State Award of Merit from the Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.

Putnam hopes to be able to return to the Warriors’ bench.

“I would like to see the kids play ball,” said Putnam, who has missed his team’s last three games, two against top-ranked Central Aroostook of Mars Hill that the Warriors split as well as a victory over Greater Houlton Christian Academy on Tuesday.

“That’s the major reason for my being involved in any of this stuff for all these years.”

The Warriors are being coached by Robert Betschner, who had been the school’s softball coach, while Southern Aroostook principal Jon Porter is handling the athletic administrator’s duties.

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...