by Tom Pedulla –
Gina Maher recently reached an extraordinary milestone when she earned her 700th victory at Irvington, an unprecedented total for a New York State Athletic Association girls basketball coach. Her remarkable resume also includes five state championships, 18 sectional titles and 22 league crowns.
And yet the greatest measure of Maher’s success cannot be measured.
That would be the countless number of students who took life lessons taught during sweat-filled practices, hard-fought games or a quiet moment away from the court to excel long after their days at Irvington were done.
“Everyone has always said Ms. Maher is like our second mom,” said Miranda Farman, a senior guard. “We go to her with all of our problems. So many girls will be in her office during off periods, just chatting with her. She is so much more than our coach.”
Alexis Martins noted that Maher continues to have a profound influence on her well after she graduated in 2013.
“Ms. Maher was able to take a game and, through hours of long practices, workouts and X’s and O’s, teach each of her girls so much more,” Martins said. “She was a daily example of what it meant to be invested and committed.”
Maher, in her 43th season, never loses sight of the need to be much more than a basketball coach. She is very much a life coach.
“Basketball is a minute part of their life,” she said.
More than victories, Maher treasures moments such as the one she enjoyed recently with Bea Tsao, a member of the class of 1985. Tsao, a physician in Boston who lives with her husband and their two children, recalled a comment the coach made at a team dinner several decades ago that still resonates with her.
“You have to respect them and you have to care for them. You are being a teacher,” Maher said. “That is what all of these good teachers do. They respect and they teach and they care.”
Players understand they are learning more than a sport from Maher.
“It’s a lot about winning, but it’s also about lessons we can carry past high school, working through things and, even if you have a bad day, putting your best out when you enter the gym,” said senior Mia Mascone.
Maher invests time to learn strengths and weaknesses of each player on the roster and how to best motivate each one.
“She is just such a role model. She pushes me to be more than I ever thought I could be,” said Eva Gilbert, another senior. “She makes me work hard at everything – school, sports, family. Whatever I have to do, she’s on me about grit and how to work my butt off for what I want.”
Maher favors one phrase above all others – “Hold the Rope.”
That is her way of emphasizing the need for each team member to fulfill her role, to be someone others can count on. In time, teammates come to view each other as much more than teammates.
“Hopefully, we’ve created this huge family,” said Maher. “And there is the saying that once you are part of it, you are always part of it.” Nothing pleases her more than when former players visit.
As years tick by and victories mount, it is only natural to wonder how much longer Maher will do her share in holding the rope. She said her passion for basketball is as strong as when she started in 1975. She had difficulty sleeping after a recent loss to Briarcliff.
“I may be even more competitive,” she said.