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Remembering the career of Mico Puiia
REGION -- Those individuals who were fortunate to have crossed paths with Mike (Mico) Puiia certainly haven't forgotten how driven and committed Puiia was throughout life.
The Rumford native began playing athletics innocently. However, by the time he reached Stephens High School it became obvious the skill level was above and beyond.
"Mico was a fierce competitor," his son, Dino said. "He was a tough as nails ex-Marine who believed in discipline, determination, and a never give up attitude.
After graduation, the elder Puiia attended Colby College for one year, but his education was interrupted when World War II called. Puiia served his country in the South Pacific and played service ball alongside Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Bob Lemon and many other MLB hall of famers.
Puiia grew up on Railroad Street, the homes were about where Route 108 is now. The mill owned the land and they let several immigrant families, mostly Italian, build there around 1915, including Puiia, Parrella and Sciaraffa families. When the state wanted to build Rt. 108, the mill asked the families to leave. This was approximately 1950. Some families dismantled the houses and re-built, while others just found other places to live.
Following the military, Puiia returned to Colby and earned nine letters at the Waterville-based institution, including three each in football, baseball and basketball. He was captain of the football and basketball teams. Puiia was the only Maine player to play in the East/West baseball college all-star game at Fenway Park in 1948.
After college, Puiia coached four sports at Livermore Falls High School (add track to the above list). He returned to Rumford in 1959 as head football and track coach. The Stephens teams he coached were always very tough and held their own against the biggest schools in the state. He coached some of the finest athletes to ever come out of the River Valley area, including some other Maine Hall of Famers.
Puiia became athletic director around 1962 and taught history. He served as AD until his passing in 1988. During his tenure, Puiia also added coaching duties in freshman football and girls' softball along the way, winning titles in both sports. There wasn't much that got by him and he was willing to confront any individual(s) who was out of line; those who experienced the stern raft. Puiia coined the phrase "need I say more."
"Mico was a great motivator of young people, tough but fair,"said Dino, who was a three-sport standout at Rumford when the new Rumford school was built in 1969. "He expected his players to play hard, be determined to always give their best and never let down. His teams were always well prepared and respected throughout the state."
Mike was inducted into the Maine State Hall of Fame as an all-around athlete and also the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame in the '80's. In addition, he was a western Maine basketball official for many years and a baseball umpire.
Puiia left his mark throughout the state and is still very respected by the hundreds of athletes who played under him. The Mountain Valley High School gymnasium was named in his honor.