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Dino Puiia recalls days as a Panther
REGION -- It was a simpler times decades ago. However, the degree of athletic competition was intense as ever and Dino Puiia took full advantage of the situation.
Puiia played at Rumford High School from 1969-71 and accepted any challenges that came along. He earned 10 letters as a Panther -- four in baseball and three each in football and in basketball. His exploits on the numerous athletic surfaces produced a vast amount of memories and during a recent vacation trip to the River Valley, he was able to recount many of them.
In football, when Mike Haley was the coach, Puiia was a 15-year-old sophomore quarterback and passed for over 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns. Jerry Perkins replaced Mike Haley as head coach the next year and installed a power-running offense with less passing. Still, Puiia passed for over 2,900 yards and 24 touchdowns in his career. Marty Milligan was the backup QB, but he also played some fullback and defense, winning the Fitzpatrick Trophy his senior year. Meanwhile, Puiia proved to be extremely durable throughout his career.
"I started every game," said Puiia. "In fact, I played every quarter of every game (broke thumb in the final quarter of the final game, against Mexico, but it was nearly over by then). We were 7-3 in '69, 6-3-1 in '70, and 4-6 in '71. This was against the biggest Class A schools in the state."
Rumford teams earned a reputation for its competitiveness and even in losses, the games were always close. Portland and EL 20-14 and 24-0 to Brewer on 1970, when they were unbeaten and nationally ranked. The Witches crushed opponents by wider margins except Edward Little who they beat 6-0 in the state championship game.
"It was a good game though," said Puiia, who was honorable mention all-state Class A QB in '69 and '70, and second team all-state QB in 71. "We gained yards against Brewer but stalled out in the red zone. I am most proud of how our teams played hard all the time and held our own against everyone."
Puiia, John Mooney and Chris Whiting were football tri-captains in '71.
In basketball, Puiia played shooting guard and started a majority of the time until replaced in the starting lineup by Jim Mooney as a senior.
"It was pretty good company," said Puiia, who recalled being named MVP in the eighth grade basketball tourney, after scoring 42 points against St. Theresa's in the semifinal.
Puiia was a pitcher/shortstop in baseball for coach Harris Elliot. As a senior, he batted .468, believed the highest in the state, Class A, that year (current USM coach Ed Flaherty led the Portland league and Larry Mahoney led eastern Maine). Puiia was also invited to a Red Sox tryout camp in Augusta in 1971 and performed well, but wasn't signed.
Puiia yearned for the pigskin and earned starting quarterback on the freshman team at UMaine Orono in '72, but transferred to University of Prince Edward Island in '73 to accept a football scholarship offer. He played Canadian rules football (three downs) three seasons, beside former Rumford teammates Larry Gallant and Dennis Blanchard.
Puiia also played baseball for several years, including the Rumford Pine Tree League team as a pitcher and infielder and also one year in Charlottetown, PEI for the PEI junior national team, semi-pro baseball in the Portland Twilight league for Biddeford and also in Baltimore for the Cockeysville Cubs for a few years.
Puiia spent many years in the music industry and also with Best Buy and living in Boston and Baltimore. He currently lives in Tucker, GA, a suburb of Atlanta where he does some volunteer work for the church and local non-profits. He also owns an athletic running shoe distribution business.
"By the way, I still have all the newspaper clippings and stats from my entire career,"said Puiia. "(Late) John LaPointe wrote a lot about me over the years, God bless him. The (Rumford Falls) Times and Sun (Journal) always treated us well over the years. I still enjoy following the local teams and athletes in the Times every week. Go Falcons.