It was after every Tuesday and Thursday practice, without exception, that Indian River High School boys’ lacrosse head coach and founder of the Tribe Youth Lacrosse Program Jim Dietsch would turn to his players and ask: “Alright — who’s going to step up to help coach the kids tonight?”
And it was after every Tuesday and Thursday practice, without exception, that senior co-captain Gianni Gottschalk would be the first to volunteer.
“Gianni was always the first one to say, ‘I’ll be there, Coach,’” said fellow co-captain Hayden McWilliams of his long-time teammate. “He was there for all the indoor practices, all the outdoor practices, and he really took the time to personally work with every kid out there and make a positive impact on them. They all loved Gianni.”
“Gianni is a really good coach and worked really well with those kids. I know from just watching him out there that he took pride in that,” added co-captain George Martin. “And he’s just a great guy that you want out there on the field with you. He’ll pump you up, he’ll make practices more intense — we definitely felt it when he wasn’t out on the field with us.”
But his coaches and teammates were equally without exception when it came to taking notice of Gottschalk’s dedication to the youth program at Tribe.
In fact, at a banquet held earlier this June, the recent IRHS graduate recently made school history as the school’s first U.S. Lacrosse Bob Scott Award winner — both a regional and national award, named after one of the sport’s greatest coaches and designated for the senior player who “truly honors lacrosse, is invested in the development of the game in his community, is an exceptional player who continually tries to improve his game, and is an exemplary member of his team.”
Having known the former Johns Hopkins University coach personally throughout his own coaching career at the University of Maryland, and having known Gottschalk as a player and as a person for the past four years, there was no question for Dietsch when it came to submitting his name for the award in Scott’s honor.
“He would have liked Gianni,” said Dietsch. “Bob Scott — he always loved giving back to the game, and that’s Gianni, too.
“A great example I’ll always remember is when he hurt his ankle and couldn’t practice, I told him to go rest up instead of helping coach the kids that day. He said to me, ‘Coach, I have to go. They’ll miss me if I’m not there.’ That’s how much he cared. When I think of Gianni, I think of outright 100 percent passion for the game, and he took that same passion in coaching the kids.”
For Gottschalk, however — despite being an All-Conference selection for the Indians as an attackman during his senior season (and also as a linebacker on the football team), graduating with a 4.1 GPA as a member of the National Honor Society and the Leo Club, and never missing a practice — the recognition was still far from expected.
“It’s an honor,” he said. “Coach told me that he was going to put in an application for me, but I was still just really surprised when I heard my name called.”
While he now finds himself recognized among some of the top high school lacrosse players in the region and the country, interestingly enough, Gottschalk didn’t get his start in the sport until arriving at Indian River his freshman season — one year after the school got its own start in lacrosse with its first varsity program.
Four years later, and fresh off a senior season in which he helped lead the Indians to their first Henlopen South title, he said much of his commitment to budding youth programs, such as the one at Tribe, came from trying to help give local kids the opportunity to learn a sport he hadn’t had much of an opportunity to learn while growing up in the area himself.
The rest, he said, was inspired by following the example set by his coaches.
“When I was their age, I really didn’t know about [lacrosse]. Through coaching, I got the chance to help out my community and give back to the sport that I’ve grown to love so much,” Gottschalk explained. “But a lot of it was for Coach Dietsch. I felt like he really took us under his wing and taught us so much that I couldn’t thank him enough for.”
As for Dietsch, after 44 years of coaching, he said that getting to see players such as Gottschalk develop into young men and give back to the sport by setting an example for the next generation is what it’s all about it.
“I’m an old man. The kids look at me like their dad. But when the players go out there and play catch with them and joke around with them, they love it,” Dietsch explained. “For somebody that’s been around the game as long as I have, it’s really rewarding to be able to watch kids like Gianni go out there and coach and interact with the young kids and get them excited about lacrosse. It really is a special thing.”