C.B. East 'legend' Gorni walks away on top
Brian Gilligan was in the middle of the chaos but on the periphery of the celebration. The buzzer had just sounded at Hersheypark Stadium last Saturday, solidifying the first state championship in program history for the Central Bucks East boys' soccer team and capping off a 26-0 season.
Brian Gilligan was in the middle of the chaos but on the periphery of the celebration.
The buzzer had just sounded at Hersheypark Stadium last Saturday, solidifying the first state championship in program history for the Central Bucks East boys' soccer team and capping off a 26-0 season.
Gilligan, a senior captain, jumped up and down with his teammates, doled out high-fives and hugs. Then he turned and saw his coach, Mike Gorni, walking towards him with his arms outstretched. Gilligan reciprocated: There was one more hug to give.
"It was all the motivation in the world," Gilligan said of winning for their coach. "We love that guy."
After over 30 years of coaching high school soccer - 21 of those spent on the Patriots' sideline - Gorni is retiring.
"He's the greatest coach I've played under, hands down," goalie Austin Prime said. "He's an even better person. All he does is care about this team. He's so dedicated. The hours he puts in, the time he puts into this team. He's really quiet about it; he's not the kind of guy to brag.
"It's a great honor to play for him. I'm so glad we could win it for him."
The success is staggering:
Three hundred eighty-three career wins. Twenty-one consecutive District 1 playoff appearances. Twelve District 1 semifinal appearances. Ten Suburban One Continental Conference championships. Eleven state playoff berths.
He made the decision last year that this season would be his last.
"I will absolutely miss everything about high school and East, but it's time for an old guy to go to pasture," Gorni said.
Those numbers don't include the sustained excellence Gorni has fostered at Lehigh Valley United, FC Delco and the Pennsylvania Olympic Development Program.
He plans to stay active with those programs, but hopes his retirement will allow him to spend more time with his grandkids - Emma, 10 and Drew, 7 - and travel to watch his former players.
Gorni's numbers are impressive, sure, but the way his players talk about him is just as astounding.
"Ever since [fifth grade] he's been like a father to me. Sometimes I don't like him very much because he pushes me," forward Evan Vare said before the season. "He's one of the greatest coaches in the country. He's won at every level, high school, club - he's won national titles - the man is incredible. He knows how to set a lineup up, and makes things happen out of nothing.
"I've become a great finisher because of him."
Gorni grounds his success in the relationships he has built with fellow coaches, like longtime Radnor coach Sam Holt, who he called the "single biggest influence in my career."
Other influences include West Chester Rustin's Dave Tordone, Lehigh Valley United's Greg Ramos, Great Valley's Bob Kulp, and Neshaminy's Hal Heffelfinger, all of whom Gorni cites as having an impact on him personally and professionally.
In particular, it was something Holt said to Gorni that stayed with him throughout the years.
"It's not the number of big games you win, but the number of big games you are in," Gorni remembers the former Radnor coach telling him. "It's always about the journey."
Teams coached by Gorni both won a lot of games and appeared in even more.
In Hershey, with C.B. East's journey over, Gorni corralled his group for one last huddle at midfield. It broke up, and the Patriots started to walk back to the sideline to collect their belongings.
"Gorni's a legend," the remaining spectators shouted.
"Gorni's a legend," they repeated.
As is his nature, the coach was a little embarrassed by the attention.
One last time, he'd need someone else to do the bragging for him.