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The Annville-Cleona softball program has been without a head coach since popular former boss Dave Bentz was forced out of the job after 11 years amid controversy following last season.

The wait for a successor to guide one of Lebanon County's most consistently successful scholastic sports programs is now over.

The Annville-Cleona school board on Thursday night officially and unanimously approved the hiring of ex-professional baseball player Melvin Dorta as A-C's new head coach at an annual stipend of $3,400.

The former Harrisburg Senators infielder and coach may seem like an unlikely choice for the job on the surface, until one considers he's been both a baseball and softball instructor dating back to the end of his playing roughly a half dozen years ago. That, combined with a close friendship with Annville-Cleona athletic director Tommy Long, made Dorta a perfect fit for the job.

"I've been teaching softball and baseball for at least six, seven years," said Dorta, who has served as an independent instructor for Keystone State Baseball and Softball Academy in Manheim. "Even when I played baseball, I was teaching during my offseasons. And I'm really close with the AD, Tommy Long. One of his kids played for one of my travel (baseball) teams, so we got really close. And he didn't have anybody that wanted to take that job that he was confident with, so I told him I'd do it."

For his part, Long indeed expressed confidence that Dorta, who said he also plans to lend some assistance to the A-C baseball program, is the right man for the job.

"Getting someone with Melvin’s qualifications and experiences is outstanding for our student-athletes," Long said in an e-mail.  "We have a solid program and I look forward to watching Melvin and his staff continue to grow the program on the foundation that has already been established."

Dorta inherits a squad that Bentz guided to a 14-7 record last spring and earned berths in the Lancaster-Lebanon League and District 3 2A playoffs, and one that boasts a strong nucleus of returning players, led by shortstop Morgan Zimmerman and catcher Amber Rexrode, among numerous others.

"I'm really excited," Dorta said. "I talked to some of the assistant coaches from last year, and asked them about the program, and the girls coming back and what I'll be facing when I get there. And they talked really positive about the girls - they're hard workers and they've been doing good around the league. I'm just excited. I know there's a lot of expectations, but I'm confident because a lot of the stuff I've been hearing about the Annville-Cleona softball program has been good and positive."

Dorta declined to discuss too deeply the circumstances that led to Bentz's unpopular ouster - the now former head coach allowed a team member to borrow his keys to the high school, which led to a prank being played inside the building and ultimately a request for his resignation - preferring to focus on what he sees as a bright future for the program.

"Briefly, I heard what happened," he said. "But to be honest, I don't really care what happened in the past. I just want to be able to help the program. I know they didn't have many candidates sign up for that job, and I just felt confident doing it. I'm just ready for whatever that brings."

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