Published DateGILFORD — Joan Forge started coaching in 1977. Her high school teams have made a total of 25 state championship appearances, bringing banners home in 17 of those title games. She's had 18 of her athletes voted as "Players of the Year." Yesterday, when her Gilford High School softball team earned a victory over Inter-Lakes in Meredith, she notched another impressive statistic, as her count of varsity-level victories clicked over to 1,000.
Her milestone didn't come un-noticed. As the final out was being recorded, her players and well-wishers crowded around her with a bouquet of flowers and four large balloons, one of them in the shape of the number "1" and the other three all zeroes. The Inter-Lakes team joined in the ovation for her.
Forge, 58, was born to be a coach. A self-described "tom boy" growing up in Connecticut, she tagged along with her older brothers, playing baseball, stickball and pickle, then serving as the bat girl for their teams. "Everything, my whole life, has been sports," she said.
Forge attended Plymouth State College (now Plymouth State University) in the era prior to Title IX, competing in lacrosse, nordic skiing and gymnastics, mostly because there were so few choices for female athletes prior to the landmark legislation that mandated equality in athletics. Because of her success on her collegiate teams, and her career subsequent, she's included in PSU's Hall of Fame.
Forge got her first taste of coaching in the Inter-Lakes District, where she did her student teaching, mentored by long-time coach and athletic director Anne Galligan. In 1977, after graduating, Forge was hired as physical education teacher at Ashland High School, where she also coached basketball and softball for seven years. Her record at Ashland was 60 wins, 64 losses in basketball, and 91-26 in softball. She also took her softball team to a state championship in 1983.
In 1984, Forge was recruited to take a physical education position in Gilford. Although she was settled in Ashland, she was lured away by the opportunity to start a girls' soccer team. However, between the time that offer was extended and soccer season rlled around, that decision was reversed and Forge found herself coaching softball and, a sport she had little knowledge of, volleyball. "I was like, uh, do I have a choice? They said no. Little did I know that it would turn into a dynasty."
Gilford has long since added a girls' soccer team, however, Forge quickly became so invested in the volleyball program that she wouldn't consider leaving it. Despite her lack of initial expertise in volleyball, Forge has found remarkable success, compiling a record of 464-64 in Gilford, a run that has included 14 championships and a state record of nine consecutive titles, from 1999 through 2007.
Her tenure as Gilford softball coach hasn't been too bad, either, as her record of 385-164 indicates. Including her time in Ashland, she's been to six softball championships and won half of those games.
Referring to her championship games, Forge said, "I still can't believe that. Coaches coach for different reasons, championships are like the icing on the cake."
Despite her impressive statistics, Forge said it isn't the championships, or even the wins, that keep her coming back to coaching. "It's a rewarding profession because you're making a difference in the lives of student athletes. I'm very passionate about watching them grow. We're just going to do everything we can to improve and be successful." Her joy in coaching doesn't end with the last game of the season. As much as she enjoys the championships, she also relishes watching her athletes grow into successful adults, some of whom have tried their own hand at coaching.
Though winning 1,000 games is a rare accomplishment, Forge deflects responsibility for the figure. "It's not me that wins the game, it's the players. The athletes I coached have 1,000 victories... I've been blessed to have talented athletes who have the will to improve." Even at the end of long practices, she said, her players continue to show the desire to reach a higher level of performance. "The kids are like, coach, we want to win this year. They're driven athletes, it's really about them."
For Forge, she's happy to be on the edge of the playing field, cheering them on to yet greater heights. "Coaching is my passion. If I could be anywhere, at any time, I would be coaching."