AYER -- The walls inside the athletic department office at Ayer Shirley Regional High School are still slightly bare as the newly hired athletic director, Jon Sweeney, settles in.
Sweeney lounges behind his new desk in his swivel chair with a wide-tooth grin as he chats with one of the Panthers' coaches about the upcoming fall season.
He takes over after long-time athletic director and teacher Jamie Lamoreaux retired at the end of the 2012-2013 school year. For the last six years, Sweeney has worked as the head teacher at the Merrimack Valley Special Education Collaborative in Pepperell.
"My wife and I, we just had our first son," explained Sweeney. "I was looking for something a little bit more local because even doing that, I had to go to meetings in Billerica and Chelmsford. It was just funny, my wife was looking for jobs for me one day while I was at work, and she came across this position.
"I have experience at the college level. Just knowing about the town, knowing about the good things that are going on here, I felt that with my athletics background, my coaching background and my teaching background -- it just made sense."
Sweeney was an outside linebacker at Southern Connecticut University for two years before transferring to Fitchburg State, where he concluded his career. Sweeney, 29, graduated from Fitchburg State in 2006 with a degree in athletics administration.
After Sweeney's playing days came to a close, he was offered a position as the defensive line coach by then Falcons' head football coach Pat Haverty. Haverty left the Falcons for personal reasons, but Sweeney wanted to stay on the coaching staff.
He quickly climbed the coaching ranks and finished his last year with the Falcons as defensive coordinator. After he hung up the headset, Sweeney worked part-time as an assistant in the Fitchburg State athletics office.
"What they did to help me out because I was a young guy -- they let me be an assistant in the athletic department," said Sweeney. "I was working directly for the assistant athletic director, Mike DePlacido. He is a great guy. I learned how to do all the dirty work. He kind of showed me the ropes. I just learned how to schedule busses and set up the fall/winter schedules."
Sweeney's welcome to Ayer-Shirley from the coaches and administration has been very warm.
"Honestly, at this level people are more willing to work with you," the athletic director said. "Here, there has been a ton of support from the principal to the coaches.
"As soon as I got hooked up on the e-mail, all the coaches contacted me. I'd say the transition here has been great. It has been something I wasn't expecting. From day one when I was hired in early July, the people have been supportive."
One of Sweeney's biggest supporters in the transition phase has been Lamoreaux. Lamoreaux continues to mill around the high school and is quick to offer Sweeney the tools of the trade.
"He (Lamoreaux) has made the transition really smooth," he said. "Coach Lamoreaux has been kind enough to stay on in kind of a mentor role. Justin has been in constant contact making sure everything transitions smoothly. The town has so much tradition and pride in its school. I want people to feel welcome to ask questions."
Sweeney's goal for the athletics department is well in touch with that of the district.
"You can't be in high school forever," he said. "We want them to have a great experience. We want our students to participate and have them become motivated.
"As coaches and teachers, it is our job to prepare them for their future. I am very excited to get involved in the community and the school district. I am really looking forward to the upcoming school year. "
In addition to his duties as athletic director, Sweeney will teach special education.