Ryan soccer programs more than just championships

Amanda Vogelman celebrates with (from left) George Todt, Ryan Haney and Jon Geist after she was inducted in the Ryan Soccer Hall of Fame. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

George Todt loves to see his guys succeed.

Todt was the longtime soccer coach at Archbishop Ryan High School and during his 44 years on the sidelines, he turned out a lot of great players and even more great men who went on to do great things.

No matter what they went on to do — in the business world, a police officer or any other job — he was always there to give them guidance whenever they would need it.

But with the exception of his son, Ryan, he probably gave more advice to two of his guys, Ryan Haney and Jon Geist. And now Todt is having a great time watching his boys reach new heights with programs he loves.

Haney graduated from Ryan in 1997, Geist two years later. And both hung on every word Todt said while he was coaching them. But when they became his understudies, they listened much closer.

After all, they were stepping into his world, and they know when it comes to soccer, especially Ryan soccer, nobody knows or cares more than “Mr. Todt.” And, boy, does Todt love watching them carry on his winning tradition.

And the coaches are doing their part to keep that tradition alive.

“When I got the job with the boys team, I was so excited, but I didn’t want to let him down at all,” said Haney, who will start his fifth year as the boys coach this year. “I was never shy about asking him questions. I have so much respect for him. I love soccer, and I love being around the game, but it is special because I’m coaching at Ryan. I’m coaching Mr. Todt’s team.”

Hard to argue that.

Todt won 13 championships, 650 games and built an elite program.

He cared almost as much about the field as he did his team. Ryan’s soccer pitch is a beautifully manicured field with lights behind the school.

He built a program from scratch, taking over as a 21-year-old kid and growing the program for more than 40 years. In his first year, just out of St. Joseph’s University, it was the Raiders’ first year in the Catholic League. When he left, he was the all-time winningest coach in Pennsylvania.

He built the boys program into something special, but now his boys have built the girls program into something even bigger.

The boys program, which gained national recognition in the ’80s, has won 13 Catholic League championships. The girls now have 15. Eight of those crowns have come in the past 13 years. Haney was the head guy for six of them, Geist for the last two.

The boys program has had three coaches in its existence..

Haney brought stability to the girls team when he took over the program in 2005. He was the fifth coach in four years. He kept the job until 2015, when he won his fourth straight Catholic League crown. He left to take the boys job. His top assistant with the girls was Geist.

“Ryan wanted to try being a head coach after coaching with me, and he took over the girls program and he brought it to new levels,” a proud Todt said. “Jon has continued that. It’s great to see them do that because they love the school. They love the school just like I love the school.”

Todt’s dynasty was impressive.

He won six straight championships from 1983 to 1988. He also claimed crowns in 1981, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1996, 1998 and 2003. It’d be hard to imagine a team being more successful, but the girls program has actually surpassed them.

But it’s not a competition. It’s a community.

Everyone involved with either team wants to see both programs continue to shine.

“Mr. Todt was very supportive of the team when Ryan coached it, and he’s been that way since I became the coach,” said Geist, who was an assistant under Haney and has spent the past four years as the girls coach. “He taught me so much in every aspect. Not just soccer, but in life.”

It would be hard to envision someone loving their school more than Todt.

Sure, he’s a Father Judge graduate, but he proudly says he went there only because Ryan wasn’t built yet. He’s known mostly as a soccer coach, but he was also a longtime athletic director and teacher. He still has an office at the school, and when anyone from Ryan needs something, they don’t have to ask him twice.

He still has that coaching ability, and when he takes time out from golfing, enjoying retirement or playing with his grandchildren, he’s happy to do what he did so well for nearly five decades.

“The last game I coached for the girls team, I invited (Todt) to speak to the team before the game,” Haney said. “He’s just such a good motivator. When he talks to you, you want to play well. It’s like that, for me, in coaching, too. I want to win because I’m the coach, but you also want to win because you want to do it for him.

“People ask if I feel pressure. Pressure is privilege. It’s an honor to coach the Ryan soccer team.”

Todt has taught his understudies a lot. Obviously, X’s and O’s of soccer are one of them, but it’s certainly not the most valuable thing he passed on.

He taught them the values of helping players away from soccer. He also taught them respect for the league.

Todt loved winning championships, but he loved representing the Catholic League even more. And while he was coaching, he would always square off against top programs guided by great coaches. That made the wins all the more special.

“When I was coaching, the Catholic League had a great fraternity,” Todt said. “You had Jerry Brindisi at North, Bob Peffle at La Salle, Jim Murray at Prep. Those games were hard, and you didn’t always win. The league was strong. And most of those years, we were playing the Northern Division two times each. You never had an easy game.”

Now it’s many different faces, but the same competitiveness. And Haney feels the same way about his opponents.

“Mr. Todt loves the Catholic League, and he taught me that the best thing for Ryan isn’t always the best thing for the league, and that’s OK, and sometimes you have to be good with that and do what’s best for the league,” Haney said. “There’s something special about playing in the Catholic League. Not too many kids get an opportunity to play a championship game in front of 3,000 fans. The league has that.

“And we love the other teams. We always want to beat Judge, but I never want to see anything happen to them. We hated seeing Dougherty and North close. You want to beat them, but you want to see them do well when they’re not playing you. I think that’s what makes the Catholic League so special. ”

Todt, Haney and Geist are three of the first names you think of when you mention Ryan soccer, but to those three, another man is right there with them. He was never front and center, but he was certainly the backbone of the program.

Walt Bradby was Todt’s longtime assistant coach and assistant athletic director. His name never appeared in lights, he was never quoted after big wins, but he was a catalyst for much of Ryan’s success during Todt’s career.

Bradby, whose son Michael coached the team for three years after Todt retired, leading the Raiders to the Catholic League semifinals before stepping down, was the opposite of Todt in many ways. But he was also his best friend, closest confidant and huge friend to every player he coached. He passed away four years ago.

Whatever Haney and Geist didn’t learn from Todt or their own fathers, they learned from Bradby.

“People always said if you had a question for me and I wasn’t there to answer it, you could ask (Bradby) and he would give you the same answer I would,” Todt proudly said. “The players loved him. He joined me in 1979. He was a great coach and a great friend.”

A few years after Bradby joined the staff, Ryan won its first championship. A few years later, the Raiders were a dynasty.

“When I was growing up, guys like Brian Bradby and Michael Bradby, they were great players and I remember looking up to them,” Geist said. “Then when I was older, they would come back and play, help us get better, and I remember thinking how great it was to play with them. They were heroes to younger guys. It was because of who they were and because they played for Ryan.”

That pride is back.

Ryan comes into this year with an opportunity to win a championship in both boys and girls soccer.

The girls have won the championship more often than not and return a strong team that is ready to defend its crown.

The boys were young a year ago when the Raiders won two playoff games before putting a scare in La Salle in the semifinals. Most of the guys who were responsible for that run are back on the team this year.

It would be a challenge for both teams to bring home the championship, but it’s not a crazy thought the school could hoist two banners in November.

“I want to win one for us, but I think the best feeling would be handing it to Mr. Todt,” Haney said. “I want him to get it again. It would be big for everyone.”

Two championships would be a big accomplishment, but when Geist and Haney start coaching for the year, a championship would just be a byproduct of hard work.

“Mr. Todt always talks about the relationships, and that’s the thing we’re trying for,” Haney said. “We all do it differently. I use so much from what he taught me. And I learned a lot from (Geist), too. He is very creative, coming up with drills.”

“I am super thankful to Ryan for giving me an opportunity,” Geist said. “I learned a lot from him. He’s almost as good and commanding attention of a team as Mr. Todt. And I still use things I remember from Mr. Todt. I have so much respect for him. We still all call him “Mr. Todt.” I wouldn’t be caught dead calling him anything else. I have that much respect for him.”

The respect for Todt goes way beyond the soccer field.

Todt might come off as a stern coach, and that’s what made him successful. But away from the field, he shows a different side.

“I’ve been told this story a few times, but this is the kind of person Mr. Todt is,” Haney said. “Years ago, there was a girl in our school who lost their mom. Mr. Todt found out that she needed a prom dress (later in the year), so he took her and her best friend out to get a dress, and he paid for it. Can you imagine Mr. Todt looking at dresses? It’s funny to even think of it, but that’s the kind of man he is. He always did the right thing.”

Haney and Geist haven’t bought any prom dresses yet, but they certainly have stepped up when needed.

Last year on the day of the girls soccer championship, Geist had a conflict. He’s going for an MBA at Villanova, and a big test was scheduled shortly after the Ragdolls won the championship. He didn’t have time to stay for pictures. After they won, he was on the turnpike headed to the Main Line.

“I got there five minutes into the test, they almost didn’t let me take it,” said Geist, who works in operational IT. “I got to take it, though. It was a busy day.”

Haney had an even tougher job. In May, senior Georgie Karusky passed away suddenly after a brief bout with meningitis. Haney was close with Karusky, a soccer player, and just as he united the team in games, he united them in mourning their fallen teammate. He also made sure the team was there for Karusky’s dad.

“That was so hard as a coach because you’re hurting, but you want to be there for your guys,” said Haney, who spoke at an online memorial service the school held. “I was so proud of everyone, not just the soccer players, but the whole school. Losing Georgie was tough on everyone, but we all stuck together.”

That’s the message Haney has been trying to pass down to his charges.

It’s a message that has gotten through.

“When I played at Ryan, you never forget the guys you play with, and that’s the bond our players have now,” Haney said. “When I see that, it’s so good to see. It’s so important to the team. I think it makes you play better, but it also gives you the experience. When I think of Ryan soccer, that’s what I think of.”

Sounds like Todt’s messages got through to his boys.

“I’m very proud of both of them,” Todt said. “It’s different because neither of them are teachers, so they’re not around the school as much as I was, but they have done great things. We have the hall of fame, where the boys and girls teams are both involved together. They put a lot of hard work into coaching, and it shows. When you’re a coach, you hope you can teach your players values, and they’re doing the same thing. It makes you happy to see it.”