A farewell to Coach Olsen

Chris Olsen reacts

Olsen celebrates with his team after Wayne Hills wins the 2011 State Championship game. (Courtesy of Noah K. Murray / The Star-Ledger)

In 1987, Denise Decker graduated Wayne Valley high school. That same year, sister-school Wayne Hills celebrated its twenty-first birthday by bringing in a new head football coach, Chris Olsen. Nobody knew that Olsen’s career at the school would define a lifetime: mine. Denise Decker is my mother. Twenty six years later, as Olsen prepares to retire, I am preparing to graduate myself.

Olsen undeniably changed Wayne Hills football forever. The team that was used to finishing the season 1-8 started a string of making the playoffs just a few years after he arrived. In 2002, the Patriots team led by Olsen’s son Greg (who now plays for the Carolina Panthers) won their first State Championship and never looked back.

2004 was the year Wayne Hills won its second state title, but it was also the year that the Patriots began their famous five-year win streak.

Wayne Hills went undefeated for 55-games straight, earning championships in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008.

In 2009, the streak came to an end with a 17-15 loss to private school Saint Joseph Regional on October 2, in front of over 6,000 fans.

When asked about losing for the first time since October 29, 2004, Olsen said “I’m proud of our kids, how hard they played. And like I told them, I said ‘Hey guys, we just ended a 55-game win streak.’ And tonight was probably the first I really talked to them about it—ever. And you know what, it’s never going to be done again. That will stand in the record books long after I’m gone and you guys. That record will stand.”

Coach Olsen was not angry or bitter: he was proud of his kids. And he was just as proud when Wayne Hills took home its seventh State Championship the next year. Patriot fans could not imagine a more edge-of-your-seat game than that night, when Wayne Hills scored with twenty-three seconds left to win the game.

The following fall, when several Wayne Hills football players were arrested, Coach Olsen made a strong appeal to the Board of Education asking them to reconsider banning his boys from the semifinal game.

He reminded them that the charges against his players were alleged, and urged them to wait for legal due process before costing nine young men a game they would never get back. Although the boys were granted permission to suit-up for the playoff game, Olsen was ultimately ordered to suspend his players from the State Championship.

Wayne Hills would be playing the same opponent as in 2010, but minus nine key players.

“I don’t want to hear about who’s not here. I care about who is here. You’re here, and you’re here,” an emotional Olsen told his remaining team members in the locker room before the game. Through tears, he reassured the boys “I love you guys. I wouldn’t trade one of you.”

With 3:05 left in the game, Wayne Hills was losing. That’s when Olsen’s youngest son, nationally renowned quarterback Kevin, threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to senior Jeff Gignac.

Coach Olsen fell onto the turf and cried. The two-point conversion was good, and the Patriots stormed the field to the score of 15-13. Gignac dumped the water cooler over Olsen, the coach who had never stopped believing in his players.

“With my dad retiring and moving, and me going off to Miami for college, there are going to be a lot of big changes for both of us. But we are both excited to start this new chapter in our lives,” said Kevin.

Under Olsen’s leadership, the Patriots’ raked in a whopping 232 wins, only 52 losses and 4 ties.

Coach Olsen dedicated countless hours to students and players during his twenty six years of service and his legacy will live on at Wayne Hills High School.

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