Steinert High School freshmen boys’ soccer coach Jim Giglio celebrates his 300th career victory at the freshman level Sept. 6, 2019 in Hamilton, after the Spartans defeated Lawrence, 5-3. (Photo by Rich Fisher.)

It was obvious something special was going on just by the line of cars parked along both sides of Estates Boulevard.

It became even more apparent after slipping through the bushes on to the Reynolds Middle School lower field, where the pitch was lined with so many spectators it had the feel of a state or county tournament game.

But it was a freshman boys’ soccer game.

And yet there they were—parents, former players, current players, students all in full throat.

For a freshman game!

And that was all one needed to know about the impact that Jim “Jules” Giglio has had on the Steinert High School soccer program and community in general for the past three-plus decades. It was Friday, Sept. 6, and the first game of Giglio’s 32nd year as the freshman coach. The crowd was there to see him win his 300th game.

The fledgling Spartans did not disappoint, taking a 5-3 victory over Lawrence and igniting a celebration with Giglio in the middle. When it subsided, the usually stoic Jules had trouble holding back his emotions.

“Oh my God, it’s unbelievable,” Giglio said after gathering himself. “I tried to keep this a secret. Everybody said it was on Facebook and everything. I’m not on Facebook, but obviously everybody knew. They didn’t want to say anything to me, they didn’t want to jinx it. And then when I saw the crowd, I’m just in awe. It was awesome. To me it’s more for (the players). It just means I’ve been here for a long time. It’s an accomplishment, but for all the boys who came and supported us today, it’s all about them.”

And those boys comprised most of the mob that surrounded Giglio once the final whistle sounded. They all wanted to thank him for what he meant to them.

“He was awesome,” said Steinert varsity girls’ coach Mike Hastings, who played for Giglio in 1991. “He was the same then as he is today, which is crazy. He still has the energy and passion he had when he started. That’s what it was all about. He always tried to get the most out of his players and make you believe in yourself more than you did. That’s what he’s still doing today. Three hundred wins is pretty amazing. Think of all the kids he’s impacted, not only as soccer players but in their life. This is a guy that has pushed guys into successful lives in the future.”

Another former Giglio disciple, Anthony Tessein, is now Steinert’s varsity boys’ coach. He not only played for Giglio, but inherits the players that Giglio helped mold when they first arrived in the program.

“Coach Giglio preaches hard work, dedication and respect,” Tessein said. “Anyone that has ever played for Jules can attest to that. He shapes boys into young men and the lessons he teaches at the freshman level makes my job much easier. He is the ultimate professional and he is one of the most important pieces of our program.”

Tessein took over for Todd Jacobs, who was a sophomore on the varsity when Giglio started coaching in 1988. Jacobs watched the coach work his magic on others when they first donned Steinert’s green and white.

“Jules has always established a great bond with his players,” Jacobs said. “I had the great opportunity to teach many of his former players, and many of them tell great stories about their freshman year and coach Giglio. Jules gets the most out of his players because they see the passion that he coaches with. His players want to perform well, and they don’t want to let him or the program down. Jules does a great job educating his players about the history of the program.

“I’ve seen Jules use tough love with the players in order to get them to push themselves to be a better student-athlete. In the end, the player will get a pat on the back, with a ‘job well done,’ comment from coach Giglio.”

What makes it all so remarkable is that Giglio gas remained at the same level for so long. In most cases, a young coach takes a freshman job in hopes of moving up to varsity someday. Giglio did that with girls’ basketball, serving as freshman coach before taking the varsity job and excelling at it. He is now back with the freshman girls.

He admits that if he did not coach the girls’ basketball varsity team, he might have been tempted to take over the soccer varsity. But after proving he could do it at the highest level, he was content to stay right where he is in soccer.

Even as a young first-year coach, he had no desire to move up.

“I had opportunities, but I wanted to stay with the freshmen,” Giglio said. “I just love the freshmen. I had no desire to coach at the varsity level. The varsity guys leave me alone. We try to do the same system as the JV and varsity, but pretty much they say, ‘Jules, you’re on your own.’ This is my field (at Reynolds). I come down here, nobody bothers me. It’s great. It’s awesome.”

Giglio feels that coaching 9th-graders keeps him young, and Tessein firmly agrees.

“I don’t know if that’s his motivation,” he said. “But I swear he doesn’t look a day older than when I played on his freshman team in 1997.”

Giglio played just one year of soccer at Notre Dame High School, where he starred as a pitcher on the baseball team. His first year as freshman coach was the last year Steinert won a state title under Paul Tessein and assistant Rich Giallella. Giglio credits both of them for “teaching me everything I know about coaching soccer.”

Since then, Giglio has served under varsity coaches Jack Bell, Eric Hastings, Jacobs and Tessein. When he started, Giglio was partying in Long Beach Island shore houses he rented with his buddies. He is now the mature father of two beautiful girls. A plethora of JV coaches have come and gone over that time, but Giglio remains Old Man River and just keeps rolling along.

“A lot of programs, the freshman coach leaves after one or two years,” Steinert Athletic Director Steve Gazdek said. “It’s nice we have that stability at the freshman level. It’s a big thing, not only for the kids but for the parents. The parents know there’s a stable, good, experienced coach that their eighth-grader who will be a ninth-grade athlete will get some good lessons from.”

There is no glory at the freshman level, as wins are secondary to player development. And yet it’s an extremely important position.

“It says a lot that he’s here for the kids,” Gazdek said. “He’s here as a teacher, he’s here to be a coach. He’s not a win-loss type of person as much as he’s here for the teaching aspect. At the freshman level, it’s all about the way you teach values and work habits. He’s a teacher and he wants to instill his values and his work ethic on to the kids.”

Jacobs agreed, adding, “The freshman coach plays a vital role in the success of a program. It’s the first impression that the incoming freshmen receive. Jules takes full advantage of the opportunity to set the tone for the soccer program.”

That is what it’s all about for Giglio. He realizes a varsity coach is working year-round and the responsibilities can spread a guy very thin. He loves the fact that his job lasts from August through October (and December through February for basketball) and his sole mission is to prepare players for the next level.

“They’re molded down here and the finishing touches are up there,” Giglio said. “When I see them play and see them score a goal for varsity, it’s awesome. Here they’re young boys, and then they become men as they get older, it’s great.

“Sometimes you see them as a freshman and they come out the next year and you go, ‘Wow, what happened to you?’ They grew six inches or they filled out, when as freshmen they were like a little pencil. For 32 years, every Saturday is our fitness day. We run five miles in the park, we go in the weight room, we swim laps in the pool. The kids love it.”

And when win No. 300 was in the books, they showed just how much they love Jules.