VINALHAVEN — For the first time since 2014, Vinalhaven School will have a new face at the top of its athletic helm.

At a school board meeting in July, 51-year-old Dan Ganoza was approved as the school’s new athletic director.

Ganoza replaces Sandy Nelson, who held the AD position eight years and said she was asked not to return in that capacity for the 2022-23 school year.

“They said they wanted to put the job in the hands of administration,” said the 72-year-old Nelson. “They probably wanted somebody younger.”

Nelson, who coached girls basketball 34 years previously in Massachusetts at Leicester High School and David Prouty High School, is a member of the Worcester State Hall of Fame, Leicester Hall of Fame and the New England Basketball Hall of Fame.

She also guided the Viking girls basketball team eight seasons, and led Vinalhaven to its first state title — in any sport — when the Vikings defeated Shead of Eastport 55-44 for the state Class D championship in the 2017-18 season.

“The stars really aligned [that season],” said Nelson. “I’m so proud of those kids. Every one of those kids graduated from college except one, and the one that didn’t has gone out and worked hard and has her own home. I think that’s all pretty darn special. They were a very directed group of young ladies. And I was lucky enough to be their leader.”

“Sandy was such a fixture as athletic director here on the island,” said Ganoza. “I know it’s going to be tough because everyone is just used to working with Sandy and everyone loved working for her. To take over for her is going to be a tough job for me. But Sandy is a friend of mine and I know she’ll help me out and I enjoy the workers and coaches we have out here. And I know everything is going to work out.”

Nelson has not decided if she will return to guide the Viking girls for a ninth hoop season, but is “leaning towards not coaching, except for the fact that I love the kids.”

Ganoza has taught science at Vinalhaven two years and previously taught the same subject six years at Woodland Park High School in Colorado.

While at Woodland Park, he was girls varsity soccer coach three years, while he was the assistant coach for boys soccer four years and girls basketball six years.

At Vinalhaven, Ganoza has assisted with the boys soccer and girls basketball teams.

He is a 1988 graduate of John Jay High School in San Antonio, Texas, where he was on the school’s soccer and rugby teams. He joined the Air Force and later received his undergraduate degree in 1993.

He stayed in the Air Force 22 years and flew KC-135s and C-130s before he retired in 2016.

Ganoza said during his time in the Air Force, he lived throughout the United States, but never in New England. He added when he would come home from being deployed overseas, his planes would touch down at Bangor International Airport.

“After six years [in Colorado], my wife and I had the itch to move one more time,” he said. “And every time I deployed in the military and went off to Iraq or Afghanistan, whenever we’d come home, we’d always land in Bangor, Maine.”

“When we’d land [in Bangor] there were hundreds and hundreds of people in the terminal just greeting us soldiers as we got off the plane,” he said. “Giving us hugs and they’d have cookies for us. And in the back of my mind I always thought of those people and how they greeted us when we came back. And I said to my wife ‘I want to be around those kinds of people.’ ”

Dan and his wife, Dawn, of 29 years, have three children, all adult-age, the youngest of whom also made the move to Vinalhaven in 2020.