Coaching the Venice High girls soccer team was a natural transition for Gary Bolyard.
An avid sports fan growing up in Arizona, Bolyard knew he’d one day get into coaching, but the opportunity didn’t present itself until he moved his family to the Venice area.
At the time, roughly 20 years ago, there wasn’t a youth girls soccer team in the area, and with a daughter eager to play, Bolyard took matters into his own hands.
“I started talking to the directors of the board and they said, ‘Well, why don’t you go start one?’ So there I was,” he said. “I found a bunch of girls who were playing and I said, ‘Hey, would you like to play on a girls team?’
“I think my daughter was about 7 at the time. It went from there.”
Eventually, the girls Bolyard coached grew up to play for Venice High and he was asked to join the staff by former head coach Sheldon Chamberlain. Soon after, Chamberlain had to step down from the position, and Bolyard took over.
Even after his daughter graduated from Venice, Bolyard remained as the head coach.
“These kids, you see how successful they are and the relationships you build with them,” he said. “You can’t pass that up. These kids are like your own kids.
“A lot of these kids are struggling in life and you’re like another parent to them.”
In the 10 years since, Bolyard has taken the program to new heights.
He’s established a tradition of sending players to the next level and has never had a losing season as head coach. Over the past two years the team has taken another leap forward — going 33-5-3 and finishing in the top 15 teams in the nation each season, according to MaxPreps.
This year alone was one to remember as Bolyard, the Sun’s Coach of the Year, led Venice to its first appearance in the state championship game — the furthest any area team went this year.
Though the Lady Indians fell, 2-1, to Lourdes Academy, it was still a year to remember for the veteran coach and his team. Senior captains Mason Schilling (Bemidji State University) and Kat Jordan (Columbia University) will soon be moving on to the next level. And another wave of talented athletes are close behind them.
But even though it’s undeniable the talent that Bolyard has helped cultivate over the years, there’s more to it than goals and wins for him.
“Coach Gary has made my high school soccer experience even better than I ever could have imagined,” Schilling said. “He has helped shape me into who I am today as a player and more importantly as a person. His heart is so big for all of his players and his main priority is to just make sure everyone has fun.
“I will never be able to thank Coach Gary enough for all he has done for me and the girls soccer program over the years.”
Just one example of Bolyard being more than a coach came a few years ago when one of his players was struggling with her relationship with her parents.
“I told her, I said, ‘Listen, you’re not gonna understand a lot of this stuff until you have your own kids,” he said. “And about two years ago she had a child and called me and said, ‘Once I had my child I thought of everything you told me and it’s true.’
“Things like that really move you and make it worth it. Every year I’m going to weddings for these girls. Watching them grow and succeed in life means the most to me.”