Many players scored more goals, but few had a bigger impact on their team's success in the history of South Jersey soccer than John Rath.
The 1995 Shawnee graduate was a midfielder who knew the way to the back of the net with 56 career goals, to go with 59 assists.
Yet that was only part of his brilliance. He was a true team leader, somebody who did whatever it took to win.
It could be argued that if there were an all-time, all-South Jersey team consisting of 11 players, Rath would be heavily in the mix.
And now his exemplary career will be honored, when Rath will be among the current class inducted into the South Jersey Soccer Hall of Fame. The induction dinner is scheduled for next Sunday at Shannon Caterers in Atco.
"It is a tremendous honor and one I am proud of and one I have always been up front about and I think lot of my success, especially in high school, was derived from the teams I played on," Rath said. "We had such quality players, and without all that talent, you don't shine as brightly if your team isn't showcased."
Rath, a married father of two who lives in Shamong, Burlington County, and owns the nearby Safeguard Business Systems, was a four-year varsity player. But his freshman season ended after eight games because of an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
He then became a three-time Inquirer first-team all-South Jersey midfielder and was The Inquirer's South Jersey player of the year as a senior in 1994.
The most impressive statistic came in the win column. Rath was on the first Shawnee team to earn consecutive state titles, getting the 1992 and 1993 Group 4 championships. Shawnee went a combined 48-2 in those years and also captured the Burlington County Liberty Division and South Jersey Coaches Tournament championships those seasons.
"John was one of the great leaders we have seen," said Brian Gibney, the coach then and now at Shawnee.
What is interesting is how Rath can recall just about every detail of his stellar career. When he was a senior, Shawnee went 17-3 and lost twice in overtime by 1-0 scores to Cherry Hill West, first in the finals of the South Jersey Coaches Tournament and then in the South Jersey Group 4 final.
"I will never forget those games," Rath said. "We outshot them by a lot each game."
In the sectional final, Shawnee outshot West, 28-7. Even to this day, Rath winces when discussing the game, but it shows how much it meant to him then and now.
Rath always enjoyed hanging around the Shawnee program while growing up. Pete Rath, his brother, was a captain of Shawnee's first state-title team, in 1988. That 25-0-1 squad is considered by many the best in South Jersey history.
"Pete was a very good role model and mentor when I played," said John Rath, the youngest of three children, which also includes his sister, Kirstin.
Going to his brother's games, John Rath aspired to compete for the Renegades.
And then he met his second major soccer goal, earning a scholarship to Rutgers, where he was a four-year varsity performer and two-time captain.
He said he had professional opportunities after college, but Rath wanted to move on to the business world.
"My ultimate goal when I was growing up was to earn a college scholarship and ease the financial burden from my parents," he said. "So I had great memories at Rutgers."
Everywhere he went, the memories were great, and they will be when he is inducted, with his parents, the rest of his family, and a number of friends in attendance.
One of the great careers is being honored, and the Hall of Fame will have a much deeper roster upon his induction.
The South Jersey Soccer Hall of Fame annual banquet will be next Sunday at Shannon Caterers in Atco. Players being inducted include John Rath and Ryan Grzszczak of Shawnee, William Pinto (West Deptford), Todd Seussmuth (Kingsway), and Vicki Essex-Benedict (JFK). Also to be inducted is current Moorestown boys' coach Mike Sutcliffe along with contributors Philip W. Heery and Michael Radano. The banquet will begin at 7 p.m. For more information, go to www.eteamz.com/
- Marc Narducci