Sometimes life throws you a curveball. Better yet, sometimes the curveballs disappear.
Bryan Paul always imagined he’d find that special something coaching boys in baseball. Never did he imagine it would be golf. Certainly not girls golf.
Paul grew up playing baseball and coached in Massachusetts before coming to Edgemont 10 years ago and coaching two years of modified baseball for the Panthers.
However, sharing space in the math department with girls golf coach George DiChiara put Paul on a new path. When DiChiara replaced boys coach Pam Raines in 2011, Paul replaced DiChiara.
“I was sharing a room with George a few periods a day and I saw how much fun he was having with it,” Paul said. “When the opportunity presented itself I probably wouldn’t have put my name in the hat if I hadn’t seen through his eyes what it was like.”
After eight rewarding seasons, Paul stepped down as girls golf coach in January.
“It’s a small team and you’re working really closely with everyone,” Paul said. “It’s tough to give those relationships up. It’s been a passion of mine for the last eight years. I never thought golf was going to be the sport that this would happen in.”
Giving up the job was not easy. “It’s really hard,” Paul said. “My wife knows it was emotional for me to give it up. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had … Really what’s been so great is to build relationships with kids outside of the classroom in a totally different venue where you get to see a different side of them.”
Paul knew from the moment he stepped into his new role as interim assistant principal at Edgemont on Aug. 1 that there was no way he could juggle both, but lived in denial for several months.
“I think I realized right away and I lied to myself for a long time and said there was a chance,” Paul said. “When I accepted the job I didn’t want to concede the fact that I would have to give [coaching] up. I kind of hung on to it as long as I could mentally, but I learned early in the job the time just wasn’t going to work out to do both and be a successful part of my family at home.”
The role of the golf coach varies from team to team. Some players have their own pros and high school coaches don’t dare mess with their swings. But most are open to receiving guidance.
“Some of the girls who have performed at a higher level have sought out some professional support,” Paul said. “Over the years Evelyn [Chiu] and Vienna [Chiu] have worked with Scott Klemme at Centennial. He’s done a great job with them. I know Christina Zhong had done some work previously in Florida before she came here, but the vast majority of work is really just done in practice with the team.”
That’s a tall order since teams don’t get out on the courses until some time in April depending on the weather and the condition of the courses. The regular season runs until mid-May. In that challenged, Paul thrived, as did his golfers.
“I really had a great time with him as a coach and I improved a tremendous amount,” junior Alexis Chan said. “I started with the team in seventh grade and I barely played golf. Last year I had a really good season. That’s all from Mr. Paul. He did a really great job. He definitely put in a lot of time and effort to the team.”
Paul is the only golf coach many of the Panthers, who can start with varsity as early as seventh grade, have ever known.
“He was really organized and after being with him for so many years I got really close to him,” junior Evelyn Chiu, a returning state qualifier, said. “It’s going to be hard for me. He was really positive. He made practices fun. He’d bring his kid, he’d bring food and we’d always do something fun. On the range after practice we’d go out and do a little closest to the pin, straightest drive contest. That’s something I’m going to miss.”
Natalie Karafiol played golf at Edgemont for four years: 2007 on the boys team under Raines, as an independent with Julie Ochs in 2008 under Raines and two years with a girls team under DiChiara as the team went 0-6 and 4-9. Karafiol made states three times starting sophomore year.
In 2011, Karen Doh was Paul’s first standout, but he helped develop Vienna Chiu, a 2017 grad who competed at states four times (as an eighth-grader she lost in a playoff hole at sectionals for the final state spot). Last year Evelyn Chiu made states for the first time as a sophomore.
“Karen had made it to sectionals and reenergized the program with a full team,” Paul said. “Then Christina Liu and that whole graduating class is really where the team built. There were six or seven girls who played for four years. They were from a variety of skill levels, but they were the ones who formed a core group who were really committed and active and they were recruiting other girls to come out and play. It became a program, not just an individualized sport.”
Early on the team was barely able to field a scoring five. That soon turned into a competent five and soon the team had some of the better golfers in the section.
The Panthers were 51-56 under Paul, including going 12-5, 10-6 and 8-5 from 2015-17. Last year the team was 2-9.
Paul also stepped up within Section 1 and made sure the now-two-day sectional championship at clubs like Whippoorwill and Centennial was a first class event, including live scoring online.
“Working with the other coaches we really tried to bring the professionalism to a high level so the girls get the respect and the feelings a self-worth they deserve with it,” Paul said. “We’ve partnered with some great courses who have really been incredibly valuable in that experience.”
In addition, he continued Edgemont’s strong relationship with home course Sunningdale.
“Bryan is a true gentleman and a professional of really un-met caliber,” said Barney Foltman, Scarsdale’s founding and current girls golf coach. “His expertise in organizing and facilitating the needs of Section 1 girls golf has been unparalleled. He was able to bring us to a place we had never been before… Losing Bryan is a huge loss, but a true gain for the Edgemont school community.”