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Coaches Corner: Hanover’s Gardner a familiar face in a familiar place

  • Ryan Gardner

  • Ryan Gardner was recently named the NHIAA Division I boys lacrosse coach of the year. He's been the Marauders' boss for the past five seasons. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

  • Ryan Gardner, a former Hanover High lacrosse standout, recently completed his fifth season at the helm of the program. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

  • Ryan Gardner took over the Hanover High boys lacrosse team in 2015. The Marauders were 11-5 this year and Gardner was honored as the NHIAA Division I coach of the year. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, July 07, 2019

This is the second of eight installments of the Valley News’ weekly profiles of local high school coaches this summer. It’s a chance to better know some of the people guiding the area’s student-athletes. Today, we meet Hanover High boys lacrosse coach Ryan Gardner, a Norwich attorney and that sport’s 2019 NHIAA Division I coach of the year.

In the Beginning: “My parents moved us from Killington to Elm Street in Norwich in 1987, when my dad, Ben, was pivoting from real estate development. He had taken no undergraduate sciences and so needed all prerequisite courses before attending Dartmouth Medical School from 1992-96. My mother, Judy Karlen, was a nurse at Rutland Regional Hospital and then at DHMC and Dick’s House (the student infirmary) at Dartmouth.”

Marauding: Gardner is the oldest of four kids and was a soccer, ice hockey and lacrosse player for Hanover High, from which he graduated in 1996. He was an all-state midfielder and academic All-American in the latter sport, which his father had played at Andover and Princeton. The Marauders lost in the semifinals of the first two NHIAA postseason tournaments in 1994 and 1995, then fell to Pinkerton by a goal in the 1996 title game. “It still stings,” he said.

Accidental Tiger: “I’d been to Princeton for one of my dad’s reunions and I didn’t want to be bothered with visiting other colleges, so I just applied early there. I hadn’t thought beyond what happens if I didn’t get in.”

Matisse or Renoir? “I majored in art history but had no idea what I was going to do with it. But in the humanities, whatever you’re studying, you’re being taught to analyze and think, whether it’s written or visually. Those are skills that apply everywhere. A huge percentage of Princeton students go into financial services, but I wasn’t a New York City shirt-and-tie guy, and I hadn’t prepared for graduate school of any kind.”

New guy: Gardner took a job as assistant director of student activities at Choate Rosemary Hall, a Connecticut prep school where his father had become medical director. Ryan coached JV boys hockey and JV boys lacrosse, the latter with his father. The second year, he added JV football and moved from hockey to head wrestling coach. He had never played either football or wrestled.

Wrasslin’: “I think I’d seen one match before I became coach. I was in an administrative role and my assistant, a former college wrestler, did the sports part. When you go into a new sport, you make tons of mistakes, but my first year, we set the school record for dual-meet victories. My second year, we finished in the top 25 at the national prep tournament.”

Moving Up: “I left Choate after three years. I went to the Tilton (N.H.) School and taught English and ran student activities. I coached JV boys soccer and was a varsity assistant for boys hockey and lacrosse. My second year there, I moved from hockey to wrestling.”

More schooling needed: “I realized that I needed an advanced degree if I wanted to really accomplish anything. I chose Washington and Lee in Lexington, Va., because I cross-referenced good law schools and lacrosse programs where I could be a graduate assistant. Former Dartmouth baseball coach Mike Walsh was the athletic director there at the time.”

Toiling in the District: “My wife, Helena, another Washington and Lee law graduate, began working in the Department of Justice’s antitrust division, so I went to Washington, D.C., and worked for a law firm for a year. I really did not like D.C.’s heat and the humidity, though, and the pace of work impacted having weekends free. And it was the first time in nine years I hadn’t been coaching.”

Come Home: “We moved to Jericho, Vt., in 2009. Helena was working at the state legislature while I worked for a law firm in Burlington and was an assistant lacrosse coach at Mount Mansfield for five years. As our son, William, now 9, got older, we were looking to move closer to our families. Jeff Reed, my former junior high coach, was the Hanover varsity coach at the time, and he called and said he’d just stepped down.”

Mentor: Gardner is 47-41 in five seasons with the Marauders, and his father has been the program’s JV coach the past two years. Helena works for a Woodstock law firm and they live in Norwich. Gardner believes having grown up there helps him understand his players better. “There’s a lot of pressure on them every day,” Gardner said. “Academically, athletically and socially, they’re being pulled in so many directions. It’s really impressive how they manage their commitments.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.