This article was written shortly before the untimely passing of Ramapo Head Coach Drew Gibbs. Coach Gibbs was the RHS football assistant coach under Coach Johnson in the early ‘90s and was a beloved member of the RHS Football community. This article is dedicated to his memory.
On October 9th, MSNBC anchor Willie Geist returned to his alma mater to host a “Chalk Talk” with RHS Football Head Coach Chuck Johnson and Ramapo Head Coach Drew Gibbs on the RHS football field. This event was sponsored and presented by GroupSpot, a communication platform many know and love and use to stay connected to one another, created and run by RHS alumni Mark Kossick.
Fall 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the RHS football State Championship title, won in 1991, with Johnson the head coach, Gibbs the assistant coach, and Geist and Kossick juniors on the team. The three of them met up and reminisced about their journey to their state championship victory and those that led them there. Many former RHS athletes and coaches were also in attendance to reunite and enjoy this special event.
After listening to the players and coaches recall their memories of the 91’ team, it is evident that the bond the team had once formed was unmatched and therefore, was the key to their success. Coach Gibbs reflected on the chemistry of the team and said: “I’ve always tried to figure out if they won because they were so close, or if they were so close because they won… I finally realized that those two things just go together”. During the “Chalk Talk,” many influential figures in the RHS football community were referred to as the “Dads” and “Uncles” of the team, displaying just how special and interconnected this community really way.
RHS Alumni and defensive coordinator of the championship football team, Jim Stroker, looked back at his coaching career and realized, “All of it mattered.” He explained how every handshake, every pat on the back, every laugh with a friend, it all mattered. It was eye-opening to hear this and realize that even the little moments in life can create some of the most cherished memories. This message attests to his beloved reputation as a coach and mentor, which further strengthened the team’s oneness.
The late Jim Grasso, a dear friend and mentor to many, and the North Jersey athletic director was honored at the ceremony with an autographed photograph from the 91’ team gifted to Laura Grasso in his honor. This was a touching moment that allowed the team to come together once again in support of the Grasso Family.
After the Chalk Talk, Mr. Geist graciously gave a few minutes of his time to answer some questions from the Ridgewood High Times. When asked what his favorite RHS memory was, other than winning the state championship, he said: “starting a relationship with my future wife Christina (Sharkey at the time) is at the top of the list.” Mr. Geist said they had met and were good friends in middle school and then started dating junior year of high school and later went on to get married.
When asked how the abundance of information available on the internet changes his job as an MSNBC interviewer, he advised to “get beyond the things people already know about [celebrities] online… people know the headlines, what movie they are in, who they are dating.” Mr. Geist stressed the importance of getting past this basic information to conduct a relevant interview where new details are learned. He also said, “time is a benefit. Instead of a 5-minute interview, having 45 minutes to an hour and over the course of that time, you will usually get something good to make your interview unique.” Mr. Geist further explained that his weekly “Sunday Sit Downs” afforded him the time to build a rapport with his subject. In addition, his extensive research and preparation allow him to “dig up interesting nuggets” and search for meaningful stories that venture past the headlines.
Finally, when asked what his advice is for RHS students interested in pursuing a career in journalism or media, he said, “the key is being able to write. I can’t emphasize that enough. Writing, writing, writing… it all comes down to writing with clarity.” Although these skills are most prominent in fields like journalism or media, Mr. Geist talked about how crucial strong writing skills are regardless of career path.
It is clear that the RHS football community extends beyond the length of the football field. After watching the players reunite to discuss and relive the 91’ State Championship memories, it seemed as if they were still in high school, laughing and having fun together, just like they did 30 years ago. Coach Johnson, Coach Gibbs, Mr. Geist, and the rest of the team hold their high school memories close to their hearts. Just as Mr. Stroker said, “All of it mattered.”
Graphic: Matthew Peters