Story and photos by Chet Piotrowski Jr.

Ryan Ghere sits on a chair at the far corner of the sideline benches at Mattoon High on Monday night, watching silently while his Greenwave players are frustrated by Richland County’s defense. 

It’s senior night. His last as head coach to the varsity girls program at Mattoon High.

Ghere is moving to an administrative role that will need his full attention.

At the moment, though, the offense isn’t reacting with the efficiency he would prefer. 

His daughter, Lily, among five seniors, clears the ball off from the goal line but it hits a Richland player. Afterward, Lily gets pushed to the ground and the ball then lands in her lap. The players from both teams stop. But the official hasn’t blown his whistle. So Lily kicks the ball while lying on the ground.

Ryan Ghere roars.

“Why are we not playing?” he yells. “It’s OK to play it off the ground if no one is around you!”

Ten minutes in, Lily gets Mattoon on the scoreboard, scoring on a penalty kick to make it 1-0.

But MHS’s offense continues to sputter.

Sophomore Bella Masse takes a shot moments later that hits the crossbar.

A Richland County player drops to the pitch after being hit in the face with the ball on the far sideline. The official stops play and calls a trainer over.

The elder Ghere stands up watching, quietly observing the hurt player.

“I’ve done it a long time,” he said. “Growing up in a coaching family you know? The other thing is being on the other side of it the beginning of my career. Starting off the boys career, we started off with zero wins my first year, two wins my second, and four my third. When we started the girls, we were brand new. We had girls out here who never played soccer. We were humbled early both in boys and girls. By doing that, you see both sides of the game.”

He says his reverence for the sport comes with age and experience.

“When I was young, I yelled a lot,” he said. “People think I yell a lot now. They should’ve seen me 15-20 years ago. I used to yell at the officials every game. Got lots of yellow cards. Having kids is another one. You see what teenagers are like at home as well as on the field.”

Play resumes. Ryan sits back down, watching the team struggle, frustrated. So he pulls five starters, questioning them on their play – challenging them to do better.

“Wake up!” he yells to his team.

The five substitutions carry the offense better out of the midfield.

The five starters re-enter.

Lily misses a pass by not going diagonal down the midfield. The coach is not pleased.

“What position can I play you tonight?” he says as she runs up the field disappointed with her play.

“Whenever he says that kind of stuff to me, I get mad,” Lily says. “It makes me play better. He knows how to coach me because he’s been doing it for so long.”

He says that he’s a coach on the field and a dad everywhere else.

“With all of the kids (including his sons Jake and Shane), we have kept the game and home separate,” he said. “We very rarely talk about soccer off the field. If we talk about a game at home, it is always positive and the kids have to bring it up. There is enough pressure on them to be successful because they are the coach’s kid. I don’t want to add to that pressure. As soon as we leave the soccer field, I am just dad. It has worked out well to keep a balance.”

The Greenwave lead 1-0 at the halftime. 

He is not pleased.

He takes his chair and faces the starting 11 while everyone else arcs around the team listening intently.

The fans are anticipating a loud halftime speech. But you can hear a pin drop.

The team retakes the field.

Senior Taylor Kovach scores just two minutes into the second half, off a corner kick from Lily Ghere.

Four minutes later, Lily was knocked off the ball and thrown to the ground by a Richland defender – and awarded a direct kick from about 20 yards out.

The shot is like a missile, going over everyone’s head into the top left corner. The goalkeeper didn’t have a chance. 

“She knocked me down and I was like ‘In your face. Prove a point, don’t shove me,” Lily says. 

Thirty seconds later, junior Piper Sanders scores midst a scrum near the net, putting Mattoon up 4-0.

A few weeks ago, MHS had defeated the Tigers on the road, 6-0. This game is headed that way.

Lily scores three more times within a nine-minute span highlighted by a beautiful header five yards in front of the net off Masse’s corner kick.

“I think I’m definitely more like my dad than my mom,” she says. “You’ve heard him from the sidelines, probably. Having him as my coach for three years, we have the same mindset when it comes to soccer and how to play – get the ball wide, pass it in, and finish.”

Ryan Ghere hasn’t moved much from his seat the second half. He hasn’t been heard from since scolding Lily.

Ten minutes are taken off the clock due to the seven-goal differential. Mattoon continues to press. The Greenwave hit the crossbar three times in a flurry.

The team is working as one. They’re being efficient. They’re playing inspired.

“I got on them a little bit at halftime,” he said. “I challenged them a little bit. Especially Lily. She responded. That’s what you want. That’s what competitors do when they get challenged. You respond to it and they played unselfish.”

He reminded his players about the team philosophy: get the ball wide and pass frequently.

“I don’t like doing that,” he said of his halftime address to the team. “We didn’t come out to play the way we were capable of in the first half,” he said. “They (Richland) had something to do with that. They played defense well and didn’t give us chances. We didn’t play smart or pass the ball well.”

Ghere replaces the seniors for the final time during a regular season game. He stands up and greets them, smiling from ear to ear as they come off the field. 

As the last minute winds down, he’s leaning forward on his chair. The same chair he’s used so often these last few years. It’s his 23rd season as coach of the girls team, the only coach the program has had. He scratches his chin waiting for the horn to sound.

His wife, Lori, has been with him through every one.

“It has been a team effort for the two of us for the past 25 years,” he said. “When I started coaching, we were just dating.  She has been extremely supportive throughout my career.”

Perhaps pondering as he says one of the proudest moments of his career by winning the Apollo Conference title last week for the first time, or winning the 2011 regional championship as a third-seed out of four by defeating Mt. Zion in 1-0 in double overtime, then Charleston for the championship, 1-0, in quadruple overtime on a free kick from 35 yards out.

“We struggled that year,” he said.

The horn blows. Mattoon 7, Richland 0. It’s Ghere’s last regular season home game.

The team comes off the field and gathers together in the bench area readying themselves to go shake hands of the Richland County players. Lily starts laughing and her dad pats her on the head.

“It has been really fun coaching Lily,” he said. “She is super competitive. She is just like her brothers in that aspect. She has been raised in a competitive household. She is different from the boys in the fact that she is more of a free spirit. She can joke around one minute and then be dead serious the next. She loves to win and perform well. We have kept a good relationship throughout.”

The team shakes the Richland County players’ hands and he exchanges pleasantries with their coach and the officials. They jovially banter. A ref jokes about Ghere becoming one of them out there as an official. Ghere lightheartedly responds, saying something about losing 20 IQ points if he were to do so.

While Ghere won’t officiate, he says he plans to stay involved in the Mattoon soccer community.

“I am friends with the new coaches and will want to watch them succeed,” he said. “I think both programs will be in good hands going forward. I will want to watch the underclassmen continue to play and grow. I may even referee some games to give back a little bit.”

He gathers his team together a final time and implores them to understand how talented they are. He asks them to understand what their potential can be. They’re now 20-2-1.

They talk about the goals they established in the beginning of the season. Getting 20 wins, he says. Done. The girls throw their hands in the air. There’s still another one. Regionals is next week.

He tries to have them see his passion for the sport. 

“It’s something I’ve really enjoyed to do,” Ghere says. “I’m going to miss it. It’s time to try something different.”

Ghere is 213-218-40 as the MHS girls soccer coach. He was 294-218-60 as the boys coach, giving him more than 500 career wins.

The conversation turns a bit somber for the coach, who brings it back to the present. It’s senior night. It’s not about him he says, it’s about them.

“Hey, we’ve got a lot of season left to go here. We’ve got a game Wednesday at Centennial and a postseason that we’d like to make a run in.”