It is a position that is rich in tradition dating back to the likes of Jay Dakelman, Joe Policastro to most recently, Bob Thomas. Forty-four-year-old Craig Girvan had some tough shoes to step into and fill in but has taken the reins as athletic director at Highland Park High School with a high level of confidence to continue what has made sports in this small town something to be proud of. He took over in September 2011 for Thomas who retired.
Coach Girvan grew up in Western Pennsylvania in the sports-dominated town of Clarion, Pa. He graduated from Clarion High School in 1989. He was a three-sport athlete, playing football as a running back and defensive back, wrestling, competing at 112, 119, 152 and 160 pounds, and in track competing in the 100, 200 and 400. The football team’s main rival was East Brady High School, which featured National Football League Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly.
“Sports were big in our town. From elementary school through middle school, I played flag football, little league baseball, track and then wrestling,” the coach said.
Upon graduation from high school, Mr. Girvan attended Duke University where his major was history. He met Ann Betterton, his wife of 17 years, while attending Duke. He continued his wrestling career wrestling at 158 and 167 pounds. The Blue Devils won two national championships in men’s basketball, and Craig met the likes of coach Mike Krzyzewski, Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner. Another great Blue Devil guard, Tommy Amaker, graduated during Craig’s freshman year. Girvan has two children, Elizabeth, (15), a freshman at Highland Park High School, who competes in basketball, soccer and track, and son, Finn (12), a sixth grader in middle school. Coach Girvan’s wife was a tremendous athlete, playing field hockey while at Duke.
“It was a tremendous experience for me athletically and socially while I was there….I considered it to be an awesome learning experience.” After graduating in 1993, Mr. Girvan attended graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh for two years, earning his masters of education degree in 1995.
Before joining the faculty of Highland Park High School in 2000, Craig Girvan worked as a counselor at a group home for troubled kids in Bridgewater, and then as a history teacher in two different New Jersey school systems. At Highland Park, in addition to the athletic director’s job, Craig Girvan is also the wrestling coach and teaches three history classes.
Highland Park has fallen on some lean times in various high school sports including football and basketball, the coach said, but one of the sports that has seen a great rejuvenation has been in girls and boys soccer.
“There is a lot of passion in the town for soccer….We are trying to promote and build on it. It has come a long way. But we are trying to promote all the sports with the kids we have and adjust to changing times.” Another change has been that boys and girls tennis also has flourished.
He is most appreciative of the efforts by Middlesex County freeholders and former Athletic Director Bob Thomas for the new turf field that accommodates all sports. Also winning his admiration is the municipal recreation department headed by Andrea Baay.
One area that makes Coach Girvan particularly proud is Highland Park High School’s strong sense of sportsmanship. “Last year on a conference and state level, we earned the sportsmanship award. We’ve instilled life lessons for dedication hard work and commitment and we’ve gotten respect from other teams. It is a nice accomplishment for the athletic department.”