He will be remembered for leaving a large impact on the face of the Men’s soccer program.
Gene Ventriglia, a graduate of the Class of 1967 and leader at the helm of the New Paltz Hawks Men’s soccer team will be retiring, effective at the end of the month, as announced on Monday, Nov. 9 by Director of Athletics, Wellness & Recreation Stuart Robinson.
Robinson said it is a rare and special situation to have someone like Ventriglia attend a school as a student, excelling both academically and athletically, to return to his alma mater to coach and dedicate his life to serving others.
“For him to go through his life, very much employing the lessons that he learned from his alma mater, to be able to return to close out his working career, I think it is pretty special and pretty unique,” he said. “It really is coming full-circle.”
Widely regarded as the Hudson Valley’s “godfather of soccer,” he achieved a 539-252-54 record during his 25-year career as a high school and college soccer coach in the Hudson Valley. His collegiate head coaching career finished with a 300-213-37 record, notching win No. 300, his final win, in a 2-1 victory over Hunter College on Oct. 14, 2015.
“I feel like I have come full-circle and that was my goal,” Ventriglia said. “Coming back here, was really the way I wanted to end my official coaching career. It has been great. At least the program has my hand in it.”
During last month’s 50th anniversary celebration of its 1965 NCAA Atlantic Coast Regional Championship and its inaugural Heinz Ahlmeyer Soccer game, Ventriglia and his former Men’s soccer teammates had reunited — this time with the former Hawk calling the shots, something the long-time coach credits to his career end.
Among his numerous accolades, Ventriglia was enshrined in New Paltz Athletics Hall of Fame on Oct. 16, 1982, entering in the charter class, and his jersey number, No. 9, has been retired within the New Paltz men’s soccer program.
Ventriglia said he feels fulfilled by his career path and considers himself lucky. Throughout the past five years, he completely changed the face of the program in the sense of the individuals that were brought in, he said.
“They are stand-up guys who have good values, are good students, they care and want to play, it is not a job, it is fun to play,” he said. “When they do it, they do it very hard. What else could I want? That is what I am going to miss the most. Some coaches are all about wins and losses. They bring in kids and the only thing they see is, ‘can this kid help me win games?’ I have never looked at it that way. That is the last thing I looked at.”
Fourth-year co-Captain Joe Hughes said “Coach V” guided him to be a better person on the field, but what he respects him the most for is based on what he taught off the field. In addition, he instilled a work ethic on the team, trained them to make standards for one another, hold each other accountable and taught them to never settle, Hughes said.
“Most importantly, Coach has demonstrated to me how important your name and word is,” Hughes said. “Wherever you put your name or word you must stand by it, no excuses. These are traits I hope to apply to my life whether it be my job, my friends or my family.”
This season, the Hawks opened their campaign with the best start in program history since 2009 with a 4-0 record.
Hawks fourth-year co-Captain Angelo DiMatteo said he had a special, unexplainable bond with Coach V during his time as a Hawk. He said it is hard to explain the impact his coach of four years has had on his life not just on the field, but off.
“Coach V and I have built a relationship different than any other player-coach relationship I have ever had,” DiMatteo said. “He has truly been a role model and inspiration, but most importantly a friend, and a father figure here at school, somebody I knew I could turn to no matter what. It was never only about soccer because Coach was always looking at the bigger picture for all of us. He made sure we understood the importance of respect, responsibility and most importantly integrity.”
Ventriglia said the thing that he enjoyed the most about coaching is watching a senior who had just fi nished their final season. This includes looking back on all of the work that it took to recruit him and influence him to want to don the Hawks uniform.
“Then to see the evolution of this kid over the four years,” he said. “You see them mature. You are very responsible when that happens because you see him a lot. I think that is the thing that most coaches do not realize until they are out and away from it. That is an important thing.”
Ventriglia took the Hawks to the State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) Tournament in each of his first two years at the helm in 2011 and 2012. In 2012, he led the team to its first SUNYAC Tournament victory since 2004, a 1-0 quarterfinal-round triumph over The College at Brockport.
“I just wish we had made the tournament this year because we were good enough to make it, so that was a shame,” he said. “This team is close. We will lose some seniors, but the nucleus of the program is here. All we need to do is recruit and bring some more kids in.”
Robinson said he had gotten to know Ventriglia even before his return as a Hawks coach.
“Gene has always cared about people and he has always cared about the students and seeing that they are challenged and that they have the best opportunity possible,” he said. “He felt so strongly about the impact that coaches had on his life when he was here as a student. He has always wanted to give that piece back as a part of paying it forward and has been able to do that.”
As a national search for his replacement begins, Ventriglia said he is willing to help the Hawks new leader.
“If they need my help to acquaint them with the program, with players that are here, with the way things are done, I will be happy to,” he said. “As a reference I am here. All they have to do is take advantage of it. The last thing I want to do is be hovering over the program, that is not what I want to do. I am here just for the desire and just to watch the soccer program grow and continue to become better, that is what I want. I was part of it. I am not going to just impose on it, it is up to them.”
Up next for Ventriglia is a trip to his birthplace of Italy this spring, along with his wife Donna.
As someone who has traveled throughout the world representing his homeland at the international level and competing for the United States at the Pan American Games in 1967 and the Olympic Games the following year, Ventriglia said taking trips is something he wanted to do, not just something necessary to take part in because of the retirement stigma.
When Ventriglia arrived in the United States in lieu of Italy at 16 years old, he said he tried to impose two important lessons learned from his late mother — to be nice to people and take care of his reputation.
“Even when you don’t think you should, be nice because most people are good,” he said. “I was asked how I want to be remembered. I want to be remembered as somebody who gave up himself, somebody who wasn’t afraid to give time to people. I think I have done that.”