COVINGTON – Despite the disappointment of the past two Februarys, Mike Ortner would give his father, Garry, a good-natured hard time about how one day he was going to surpass his old man’s three state soccer championships.
If only Garry Ortner could be at Tad Gormley Stadium on Saturday to see if it finally happens when Mike Ortner’s St. Scholastica Doves face Lafayette for the Division I girls title.
Ortner, who help build Northshore into an early girls soccer powerhouse in the 1990s before winning three boys state titles as the coach at Jesuit in the following decade, died July 31, a month after suffering horrific burns in a barbequing accident at his waterfront home near Slidell. The Louisiana High School Soccer Hall of Famer was 65.
“If anything, it’s made me more driven,” said Mike Ortner, whose SSA teams have won three championships in the past six years. “It’s not just for my father, but it’s what success has on you.
“When you’ve had it, you work harder and strive more to get it back every year. My dad had an incredible work ethic in the hours he put into teams. I felt like I have a lot to live up to and I feel like if they want to succeed, then I want to push to go that extra mile.”
For Mike Ortner, it’s been a season when memories of his father have been constant.
Hardly a match has gone by when an opposing coach, an official or someone he didn’t even know has expressed condolences and often a memory or two.
When St. Scholastica played at Northshore, the Panthers wore black armbands while the Doves wore royal blue (Northshore’s colors) with Garry Ortner’s initials on them.
And at Alumni Night at Jesuit, the Ortner family, Mike, mother Toni and sister Michelle, a standout on her father’s Northshore teams, were honored with many of the Blue Jays from Ortner’s 1993-2002 teams on hand.
“Garry built a great regime at Jesuit,” said current Blue Jays Coach Hubie Collins, who succeeded Ortner after being brought into the program by him and whose current team will face Brother Martin for the Division I boys championship Saturday following the SSA-Lafayette match. “He was a fantastic coach and a fantastic person.”
Oddly enough, Mike Ortner could probably attest more to the latter than the former.
He didn’t play for his father beyond the U-11 level in the Slidell Youth Soccer Association, preferring to go to Northshore while Garry was at Jesuit.
Their teams met twice, tying 1-1 in 1995 when Mike was a junior with the Blue Jays winning 3-0 in his senior season.
That 1995 season also was the one when Jesuit and Northshore were in simultaneous semifinals in Slidell, the Blue Jays beating Slidell High while across town the Panthers were losing to Loyola of Shreveport.
“We didn’t really talk a lot about how things were going,” Mike Ortner said. “I think he knew the last thing I wanted when I came home from a hard practice was your dad being critical of you.
“And part of the reason I stayed at Northshore was that I didn’t want to be the coaches’ son where the expectations would be too high or I wouldn’t be seen as trying to get away with too much.”
Still, the two remained close. And when Mike began coaching, Garry was a trusted adviser.
“My dad was such a level-headed guy, and I’m really not a lot of times,” Mike said. “I try to ground myself a lot of times when I get a little over the top and think about the way he would handle things.”
Including how to approach this week. SSA has lost the past two title matches.
“Soccer’s been such a great distraction,” he said. “For me to have 1½ - 2 hours every day when I can help these girls achieve something they want to badly, it’s a tremendous feeling. I know he’ll be there with us.”