In this 2017 photo, Bill Ashby shows off his collection of championship rings at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. Credit: Jessica Potila / Fiddlehead Focus

He had 451 wins to his credit as a soccer coach at the collegiate level, and he guided the University of Maine at Fort Kent’s men’s soccer team to three United States Collegiate Athletic Association national championships.

But these days, Bill Ashby has returned to his Down East roots. He now serves as the coach of the Lubec Elementary School’s co-ed soccer team.

Ashby, a former Lubec High School soccer standout, is also the physical education teacher and athletic director at the school.

“I missed coaching and teaching too much,” said Ashby, who in 2018 left the Fort Kent university, where he also was the director of athletics to take an admissions position at Unity College.

Within two months, he realized he had made a mistake.

The multiple-time coach of the year received a call from his former Lubec schoolmate Tina Warmell, the Lubec Elementary School principal. She told him they were in dire need of a PE teacher, athletic director and soccer coach at the school.

Ashby and wife Pam, who had bought a home in Lubec five years ago, returned to his hometown.

Pam is the chief business officer at the Fort Kent university and is still living there with their two children, Jack and Kennedy. Pam and Bill take turns going back and forth to see each other on weekends.

Ashby said he is having fun coaching players who range from fifth to eighth grade, but admitted it also has been challenging.

“Their attention spans are much shorter than the people I had been working with [at the University of Maine at Fort Kent],” he said. “That has been a big change. Getting them to stay focused and disciplined in order to become better players is sometimes a challenge.”

It turns out he has wound up coaching the grandchildren of his former high school teammates.

“The kids will come up to me and ask me if I know their mom or dad, and I’ll say, ‘No, but I know your grandfather and grandmother,” Ashby said.

The 59-year-old Ashby has called upon his experiences as a soccer coaching director in Maine, North Dakota and Kentucky, as well his time as a college coach, to help his players improve.

“It just takes a longer period of time, we have lower expectations and the learning curve is a bit longer,” he said.

During his three seasons, Ashby has been able to develop a rapport with the kids.

“Each year it gets better and better. They are starting to mold into my teaching and coaching style. We really gained some ground this year,” he said.

Ashby said the athletes have started to flourish this year and noted the best part of his job is watching the players develop.

“It has been quite rewarding,” he said.

The school isn’t playing games this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they work on skill development.

There are about 20 players on his roster, which comes from a pool of 66 students.

“Lubec has a rich soccer history that has been passed down, even to today,” Ashby said.

Since Lubec High closed 10 years ago, his players will eventually move on to Washington Academy in East Machias, Machias High School or Shead High in Eastport.

Ashby said three former Lubec players, Skyler Tinker, Chloe Savage and Kristin Grant, are playing for the Machias boys team.

Ashby played college soccer at the University of Maine at Machias and began his coaching career there. He moved on to Husson University in Bangor, Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, the University of Mary in North Dakota, Brescia University in Kentucky and the University of Maine at Fort Kent.

His collegiate coaching record is 451-193-45 spanning 34 years, including a 224-17-6 record at the Fort Kent university.

Returning to the college game is an option down the road.

“I do miss the competition, the high-caliber games, playing at a national level. It’s addictive, that’s for sure. We’ll see what happens here. I’m happy. But an opportunity might present itself,” he said.

One of his innovations as the physical education instructor has been adding a fly fishing program. He teaches students how to fly cast and takes them out on the water with their parents or with other teachers.

“It has been a blast,” he said.