Gateway’s Steve Estelle humbled by national coaching award 

  • Retired coaches and Gateway Regional alums Tim Gamble, left, ’77, and Steve Estelle, ’74, stand on the soccer field at the high school in Huntington last fall. Estelle, who retired recently, was named the 2020 NFHS Coaches Association Girls Soccer Coach of the Year. STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Intern
Published: 2/22/2021 8:15:04 PM

Perennial soccer power Gateway Regional continued to enjoy recognition recently, this time off the pitch. Recently retired head coach Steve Estelle was named the 2020 National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association Girls Soccer Coach of the Year.

The NFHS selects 23 coaches from across the country, specifically looking at the top 10 girls and boys teams. They also look at two “other” sport teams, not listed in the top 10 listings. The NFHS has carried on this tradition of sports recognition since 1982.

The award focused on the 2019-2020 school year.

Estelle has been both a middle school history teacher and soccer coach for the Gateway Regional School District. He spent 27 years as a teacher and 30 years as head coach. Interestingly enough, GRHS is Estelle’s alma mater, having grown up in Huntington. His father, Arnold “Bud” Estelle, was the first athletic director for the school from 1962 to 1967 and helped develop the soccer program in 1990. The boys soccer program was always a prominent part for the school’s athletic program, however, there was yet to be a girls soccer program at that point.

“It just came to my dad and I in the late ’80s that we should have a program for the girls,” Estelle said. “My dad’s biggest role was to go out and get signatures in the community for this program. I want to say he got about 200 signatures on a petition within a week in a small district. In most school districts, you have to start off as a club team, however, we had so many signatures that we went right into being a varsity program in the very first year, starting in 1990.”

Since then, the girls soccer program has won 11 league championships and seven Western Mass. championships while reaching the state finals on three occasions.

Gateway athletic director Matt Bonenfant was Estelle’s assistant coach before taking over the head job following his retirement last year. Bonenfant said that Estelle has contributed to a successful and positive environment for student-athletes in the district.

“Coach Estelle not only has given his efforts to the girls soccer program, but has supported athletics as a whole at Gateway,” Bonenfant said. “He attends all different athletic events, loves listening to coaches talk about their teams and is always willing to give words of encouragement.

“Coach would be the first to say that they are the team’s accomplishments, but those accomplishments have helped to put a small school on the map, helping define a standard of excellence,” he continued. “I came to Gateway in 2006 as a middle school physical education teacher. Coach Estelle was a seventh-grade history teacher at that time and I started coaching with him in 2008. He helped me learn the importance of hard work, accountability and how to maximize all of the players’ abilities.”

Estelle said he is truly humbled by the recognition, and shifted praise to the coaches, players and community that has stood behind him over his tenure at Gateway.

“One coach, or individual, does not develop a soccer program,” Estelle said. “I was part of a soccer culture that developed at Gateway going back to the late ’60s and early ’70s. There were many, many different people who have been influential in developing the culture. This has been a wonderful gift to my school district, to my players, and to me. It highlights everything we have achieved together. That’s the way I look at it.”

Estelle said winning a national award is a testament to the people around him.

“It was a tremendous, pleasant surprise,” he began. “I have had three excellent assistant coaches, Bud Estelle, Mike O’Connell, and Matt Bonenfant, who deserve just as much credit. Not to mention my three captains Jessie Walton, Jessica Van Heynigen and Ava Auclair who have also contributed to making this award happen.”

Estelle said his philosophy toward the program was always about keeping a level head while trying to put players in the right positions to be successful.

“You have to stay true to your basic beliefs about coaching,” he said. “You have to be an expert on the knowledge of the game and have the ability to be an excellent judge of talent. You have to ignore all those outside pressures. You must play your players based upon their abilities and level of excellence. The most important thing that a good coach has to do is to remain fair to his players all the time. You have to constantly re-evaluate on a day-to-day basis, making sure you can be as fair as you can be to all the players. If you play for all the right reasons, then success goes beyond just the scoreboard.”


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