By CHRIS CHRISTOPHER
John Girard has earned a major honor.
The board president of Ocean Youth Lacrosse was named the 2020 US Lacrosse Program Administrator of the Year.
“This award is given to an outstanding administrator of a league or program who runs a program of excellence that upholds the vision and mission of US Lacrosse,” said Elizabeth Piper, the manager of games administration for US Lacrosse. “We thank John for sharing his passion and enthusiasm for the sport. We wish John continued success with the Ocean Youth Lacrosse program. Congratulations!”
Piper said Girard, a resident of the Oakhurst section of Ocean Township, was highly praised by his colleagues in two nomination letters.
“One of your nominators said, ‘Through John’s leadership and tireless efforts, the Ocean Youth Lacrosse program has become a strong and positive contributor to our community. John is an advocate for education of the game, highlights the importance of player and coach continuing education and the importance of providing an affordable program for all who wish to participate.’ ”
Another said, ‘He had the vision, leadership and energy to update the culture of a decade old program to be developmentally appropriate and child centered. John personifies everything that is right and good about youth sports and does it with the purest intensions.’ ”
Girard was honored during a ceremony at the Ocean Township High School lacrosse field on a recent Sunday night. Club members arranged a gathering attended by about 50.
“It was a surprise!” Girard said. “We live across from the high school so we were told to walk over to the school’s lacrosse field. My wife, Geri Girard, snookered me into going for a walk to the high school with my son, Ben Girard, and my dog, Sally. My other son, Jack Girard, was working and could not attend. A bunch of colleagues, coaches, parents and boys from the program were there with balloons and confetti!”
“I was awestruck during the ceremony,” he said. “I didn’t think I was deserving of it because I don’t do it for the accolades. I do it for the smiles. I just kept looking at everyone in the stands with my mouth wide open. I earned the honor because I only care about the boys having fun. That is my priority. Everything else is secondary. We don’t play for the win or the ‘plastic trophy.’ We don’t always play the strongest kids. We play everyone so they all get a taste of a great and exciting game.
“What makes the honor special is that I followed my heart, knowing I was doing the right thing. Someone recognized that and thanked me for it.”
A club member for about 10 years, Girard said earning the honor was not his goal.
“It never was,” he said. “My goal is to have the boys enjoy their experience and come back for the next season and to have their parents enjoy the experience as well. Many people and towns, including mine, never had lacrosse growing up so many parents are learning about it on the fly.”
While president from 2017-2020, Girard maintained a pace that would have tired the men’s Olympic marathon champion as he coached boys who were in second through fourth grade for 1 1/4 years until he and his players were derailed by the coronavirus pandemic and performed other duties.
“I coached for the first time last year because we were short on coaches,” he said. “We had 12 kids join at the last minute for our 2-4 team. We were planning on not having one. It was the best experience. Most of my boys were first timers. We got our butts kicked a lot, but they gave it 110 percent and never gave up. That’s a winning team. Coaching should never be about your kid. It should be about all of the kids. Everyone deserves a chance to play, learn and compete no matter their skill level … and be happy.”
Girard said he enjoyed coaching.
“I love the changes in the boys from season to season in regards to their skills,” he said, “like when they catch a ball for the first time or throw one to a teammate to create a goal scoring situation. When it comes together, there is nothing else like it.”
Girard also performed lots of administrative work.
“I also scheduled the games, oversaw issues that would occur on a daily basis, attended meetings within our program, elevated our training program and lined the field,” he said. “Being the president was stressful and fun at the same time. You are constantly wanting everyone to have a great experience. The season is about two and a half months long, but the preparation covers the entire year.”
Girard said board treasurer-coach Bill Mosey, board members-coaches Colin Heaney, Chris Latorra, Glen Smyth and Chris Buhowski and board member Paul Stolowski have played large roles in the group’s success.
“Bill was my right hand man,” Girard said. “I would not have been able to accomplish what I did without his help and support. He worked just as hard as I did if not harder. Colin did whatever he could do to help the program. Chris Latorra was instrumental in starting the K-2 program. Glen helped coach the players who were in the second through the fourth grades and always lent a helping hand. Chris Buhowski helped create and coach the K-2 program. Paul helped raise money.”
Crediting his colleagues for their help, Girard said there were numerous improvements in the club during his tenure.
“I kept the boys happy and excited about the current and upcoming season,” he said. “We implemented cross training with our coaches through US Lacrosse. We opened up our program for K-2 boys. We lowered the cost to join our program and increased its numbers. We provided loaner equipment for parents to borrow for the season. It costs a lot for the equipment so if your son wanted to try it there was zero cost.
“We went away from paid coaches to parents who care about and love the game. This helped us save money. We used the savings to offset the price of winter training sessions, keeping the price extremely affordable.”
Girard said the pandemic played havoc with the club, which consists of about 85 players, eight coaches and five board members. Players range from pre-kindergarten through the eighth grade. .
Board president John Girard (center) celebrates his award with board treasurer-coach Bill Mosey (left) and coach Steve Meyer, the founder of Ocean Youth Lacrosse. Photo credit: George Alto
“Unfortunately,” he said, “we had to shut down the program. It was sad because many of our boys last year were first timers so they were excited to have a season under their belts. We were going to do a summer clinic, but we felt the training was not worth the risk of infecting the kids, parents and grandparents.”
“It was a shame because when we asked the members if they were going to play nearly every player indicated they were going to sign up,” Mosey said. “Despite the pandemic, we’re having open field nights from 6-8 each Thursday on the Whalepond Road field. We’re just giving the kids a chance to get out and run around. Depending on what happens with the pandemic, the next formal clinic will be the Sunday Night Lights in October/November.”
Girard said there is usually one team at each grade level.
“We are not the biggest town,” he said. “Other towns can have either two or three teams at each level. Our K-2 program has multiple teams. I hope we will increase our team sizes in the coming years.”
Mosey said he enjoyed working under Girard’s leadership.
“There was a vision to build Ocean Youth Lacrosse into a strong, solid family which would set the foundation for years to come,” Mosey said. “What better recognition of those efforts than an award from US Lacrosse? This is a win for Ocean Township and something all players, parents and coaches should be proud of thanks to Coach John.”
Girard is a 1990 graduate of Christian Brothers Academy where he played boys soccer. With Girard in the program, he was on the Colts’ freshman team that won 100 straight games. During one season, the team allowed just one goal. Its coach was mentioned in Sports Illustrated.
Girard served in the United States Navy for five years. He earned an Associates in Business Degree from Brookdale Community College. He earned a Bachelors Degree in Business Administration from Monmouth University. The owner of Fluid Handling Resources in Linden, he hopes to obtain his Masters Degree through a United States veterans course, Streetwise MBA, a hands on executive education program for established small businesses owned by the nation’s veterans.
“Coaching these boys has taught me a lot about myself and about working with others, especially about learning what makes these boys tick … what gets them excited about learning lacrosse. The purpose of the group is to teach and play the sport of lacrosse in a fun and competitive manner so that everyone can participate and hopefully continue their journey.
“We promote playing other sports besides lacrosse. We are very flexible with the parents and the boys. At this age, they should be trying everything because it is the only way they can find their passion.”