Girls Basketball: Rumson Coach George Sourlis Gets 600th Win
HOLMDEL - For more than 25 years, whenever Rumson-Fair Haven girls basketball coach George Sourlis hit a milestone win, he could expect a phone call from a fellow accomplished coach who had more than her share of landmark victories.
When Sourlis picked up his 600th career win on Friday night in the Bulldogs' 44-38 victory over host Holmdel, he knew that call would not be coming. Southern's Kathy Snyder, the Rams' head coach of 35 years, died in her sleep at 58 years old on Friday morning. Her loss left the Shore Conference community mourning the passing of a legend whose teams won over 500 games during her tenure.
"My heart goes out to her family and her kids and the people at Southern because we lost an icon,'' Sourlis said while trying to hold back tears. "We lost somebody who was passionate and loved what she did. I can't even talk because I'm so overwhelmed. When I got the news today, I was devastated.
"She would always call me and I would call her if we hit a milestone. I'm not getting that call today."
Snyder was the longest-tenured girls basketball coach in the Shore Conference, and now Sourlis inherits that mantle after becoming the first girls coach in conference history to reach 600 wins. He has spent more than half his life coaching the Bulldogs.
"It's a great number, but there are certain things in life that you have to really cherish every day,'' Sourlis said. "(Snyder's death) puts that in perspective."
Fresh out of college, Sourlis began his career at his alma mater in the 1986-87 season after being talked into it by his younger sister, Dorothy Sourlis, who was a sophomore at the time for a Bulldogs team that was in need of a coach. He figured he would help her out, so he coached the last three seasons of her brilliant career with no initial intention of staying much longer.
"Everybody at that time was questioning me saying, 'Are you going to stay now that your sister is graduating?" Sourlis said. "Out of spite, I stayed, thinking, 'I'm going to show you guys.' Then it became something that is part of my life. It's my passion. I love it."
Sourlis' legacy has since grown to include 14 NJSIAA sectional championships, five Group championships and five appearances in the Tournament of Champions. He also led the Bulldogs to appearances in the Shore Conference Tournament finals in 2006 and 2007.
On Friday night, the Bulldogs achieved the win in typical fashion under Sourlis, clamping down on defense with the game on the line and finding a way to come up with timely buckets. They celebrated with special balloons and T-shirts that had "600" on the back as well as a specially made basketball for Sourlis to mark the occasion.
"We really worked hard today for him because we know how hard he works for us, so this was like our way of giving back to him for all he does for us,'' said junior guard Grace Stant, who has committed to Villanova. "You never get, 'Good job' for playing hard because you always have to play hard or else you won't play."
The most gratifying aspect for Sourlis is the fact that several former players and even parents of former players made the trip to Holmdel on Friday to congratulate him on a rare milestone.
"I can't tell you how many phone calls and texts I got in the last few days from former players and coaches,'' Sourlis said. "I'm so lucky. That's why this number is where it is - because of them."
Caitlin Hyduke, who starred at guard on the 2006 Bulldogs team that reached the TOC, sat right behind the bench on Friday night to watch her former coach make history. Hyduke had her career at Harvard cut short because of a major knee injury, but is now working to complete her degree at Columbia Law School.
"He's a great guy and a great role model,'' Hyduke said. "I still talk to him often about how everything is going. I knew he was getting his 600th win, so I wanted to come support him. It's great now that I can joke around with him, and he can't make me run sprints or suicides if I talk back."
Hyduke also joked that Sourlis, who turns 51 next month, isn't quite as intense as he was during her tenure with the Bulldogs.
"To see him as he gets older, I tell him all the time, 'You're getting too soft,''' Hyduke said.
"She's right,'' Sourlis said. "I'm also older, so I don't have the energy. I couldn't coach her anyway. She was a pain in the ass."
Players who used to have to endure Sourlis's wrath for not giving maximum effort or not executing properly can now bust his chops as adults because they know the bond that comes from playing at Rumson.
"He really cares about everyone that played for him, which I think is something that helps distinguish him from other coaches,'' Hyduke said. "He's constantly texting me asking how are things going. The hours he would put in are just crazy and his memory is unbelievable. He'll say, 'Remember that game nine years ago, four minutes left..' It makes you realize how much he cares about everyone on this team, and I think that's what makes him so special. He was great to play for. I miss it."
"This win is for all those kids that gave me everything in practice every day and are now my friends,'' Sourlis said.
Many of them even still return from college to play on their old court again during the summer.
"When we do our summer workouts and they all come back and scrimmage against us, it's just really nice to see how much they still like it and how much they still like being around (the program),'' Stant said. "It's so fun when they come back."
Sourlis soaked in all of that camaraderie on Friday night, as one living piece of his coaching history after another emerged from the stands to give him a hug or a handshake. He gripped his wife and children tight, alternating between smiles and melancholy while sorting through a landmark victory and the loss of a friend and peer.
"My heart is just broken for Kathy's family and everyone at Southern,'' he said. "(Getting 600 wins) is a bittersweet thing tonight when you put it in perspective."