Boys Soccer – SSN Coach of the Year: Jean Dortissant, Asbury Park
Every summer, Asbury Park boys soccer coach Jean Dortissant returns to his native Haiti to visit some family and friends who still live there. The sights and sounds not only bring him back to the before his family moved to the United States in 1989, but they place him in the shoes of most of the players in his program.
When he returns home to the U.S., Dortissant brings back two things that have been invaluable to him in his role as a coach and teacher: perspective and relatability.
For nine seasons, Dortissant has been a relatable figure for soccer players at Asbury Park – most of whom have been of Haitian descent. For any coach looking to build a program from the ground up, however, perspective can take time to impart and this current group of Asbury Park players has not only embraced their coach’s perspective on the field, but away from it as well.
More than the 18-4-1 season, the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I championship and the turnaround from a 5-12 season in 2015, the overall transformation of the program is the reason Dortissant is this year’s Shore Sports Network Coach of the Year.
“A lot of the guys on our team come from very humble backgrounds and their families came here looking for a better life, which I can definitely relate to,” Dortissant said. “We’re from the same country, we have experienced a lot of the same feelings and struggles and I think that has given me a lot of patience with them. They have a great sense of knowing they can’t take anything for granted and they feel blessed to have the opportunity to come here and they want to take advantage of it.”
The culture change at Asbury Park this season goes beyond just soccer. Dortissant got his team involved in more community service projects over the summer, which not only provided for the community, but also served as a team-building exercise. They spent time with patients at a Meridian Subacute Care Center in Wall, where Dortissant himself works on a part-time basis. They were also involved with the March of Dimes charity, which included the Bark for Babies dog walk fundraiser. Several also helped Dortissant coach in Asbury Park Recreation’s youth soccer program over the summer.
“I know they’re only high school guys, but we preach some of the life things that they always have to keep in mind,” Dortissant said. “Teams we play may not look like us, but we talk about always respecting our opponent. We talk about having right character, being student athletes, and representing our school. We spent a lot of time meditating – we have a person in the building who teaches yoga – and it helps the kids keep composure and keep focus.”
The results started to show on the field late in the summer, when the Blue Bishops started to click as a unit at a camp at Brick Memorial that included several other teams preparing for the season. When it was time for the games to count, Asbury Park was ready.
The Blue Bishops announced their presence to the rest of the Shore Conference in the third game of the season with a 5-1 drubbing of perennial Class B Central favorite St. Rose, which had already beaten Wall and Rumson-Fair Haven to that point. From there, the Blue Bishops would extend their start to 9-0 before losing to Matawan, 2-1.
The early-October loss did not deter Asbury Park from going on to make history. The Blue Bishops won the Class B Central championship for the first time in more than two decades and did so with a perfect 12-0 divisional record. They then won a round in the Shore Conference Tournament and later captured the program’s first NJSIAA sectional championship since 1981.
Up until the postseason, few teams challenged Asbury Park to win a close game. Once the pressure was on, Asbury Park showed calm and composure in tough situations. The Blue Bishops rallied from a 1-0 deficit in the first round of the Shore Conference Tournament to beat Donovan Catholic on penalty kicks. In the NJSIAA Tournament opening round, they overcame upset-minded Middlesex to win 1-0 and later outlasted defending sectional champion South River, 2-1, in overtime.
The Blue Bishops faced added adversity in the Central Jersey Group I final when Johnson and junior defender Shown Narcisse collided in the third minute of play and knocked each other out of the remainder of the game. With junior captain and midfielder Widmaier Beaubrun moving into the goal, the Bishops scored within the next three minutes and held on to beat Palmyra, 1-0.
"To be honest, we had hopes to win the division, but to actually win Central Group I - I didn't envision winning this at all," said Dortissant, who is also the track and field coach at the high school. "I was telling the boys that I thought I'd win one of these in track before we got one in soccer. It's been a lot of hard work and what makes it great is they are really great kids. I'm really happy for them."
Not only did Asbury Park’s season draw attention from the rest of the school and community, but other coaches and parents from around the Shore Conference have found the Blue Bishops season to be a feel-good story and have passed their well-wishes to Dortissant.
“The support from around the Shore has been so great,” Dortissant said. “I got congratulations from some coaches after we beat St. Rose, after we won the division. After we played Ocean, some of their parents came up to me and the team and congratulated us on our season and told us to go win a state title. And of course, the support we’ve had from the administration has been phenomenal. It’s really been great for our guys to see the positive impact they have been making.”
While team chemistry was a key component to Asbury Park’s breakout season, Dortissant and the program also helped nurture the development of some of the Shore’s top talents. Junior Devensky JoinVilmar contributed 16 goals and 15 assists to win the B Central Player of the Year as voted by the coaches. Senior goalkeeper Joey Johnson also raised his game to become one of the Shore’s top keepers, as well as a leader for Asbury Park. Senior Fenelson Etienne led the team in postseason scoring and finished with 15 on the season.
In addition to returning players like JoinVilmar, Beaubrun and Narcisse, Dortissant hopes the new attitude is here to stay, regardless of who graduates.