“We need 40 volleyballs.”
As Bellmore JFK athletic director Craig Papach recalls those words from boys volleyball coach Dennis Ringel, he sounds as if he’s just hearing them again. This was a budget meeting years ago and Papach wanted to know the program’s needs for the coming season. He anticipated a request for training apparatus. He never envisioned that response.
“I don’t believe in wasting practice time,” Ringel said Tuesday. “I don’t want my players collecting the balls instead of using that time for two or three more repetitions. You excel with reading the game. The only way to get that is playing as much as possible.”
That’s one Dennis Ringel story, but emblematic of an approach that has made him one of Long Island’s most successful coaches. In his 12 seasons at the helm, the Cougars have won nine Nassau titles, four Long Island crowns and a pair of state championships.
And now, though only 45, he is hanging up his whistle.
“My kids have reached a certain age and they are all involved in sports,” said Ringel, whose children are 13-, 11- and nine-years old. “The past season, I was missing more of their [activities]. Was I OK with that? No, I wasn’t . . . I thought about when I played. My dad was at every game.”
Bellmore JFK had some success with wrestling in the 1970s and others in track and cross country, “But we never had anything with sustained consistent excellence — you know, like a Garden City lacrosse — until Dennis took over the boys volleyball program,” Papach said. “We became something we’d never been.”
Drive into the school parking lot and testimony to a top program is evident. Local politicians have adorned the fences with signs celebrating the Cougars’ finest moments including the 2012 state Division II title — earned with a 23-0 record — and the 2018 championship.
JFK also is the only boys volleyball team to win two county titles in one year; Nassau played boys volleyball in the spring season while Suffolk and much of the rest of the state held it in the fall. The county moved the sport to the fall for the 2010-11 school year and the Cougars followed the spring title with an autumn crown.
Ringel’s gift has been in developing talent. He took middle school players as well as kids he recruited sight unseen out of the JFK hallways to put together a dynastic run. Over Ringel’s dozen seasons, the Cougars had 15 players named to Newsday’s all-Long Island teams including 2013 Player of the Year Gary Anderson and 2018 Player of the Year Tyler Anderson (yes, they’re brothers).
“He made practicing and working hard fun, but at the same time we were always the more-prepared team,” Tyler Anderson said. “Those two don’t always go together, but with [Ringel] they did; we’d watched film on the teams we played and we expected to win.”
“He brought his players together and made us feel like we were part of something bigger,” said Gary Anderson, who graduated in 2014. “This was a family.”
Ringel was Newsday’s Coach of the Year in 2012, 2017 and 2018.
“You’re going to get tested every time you played [Bellmore JFK] because Dennis prepared his teams for a match more than anybody I’ve coached against,” said Bill Gibson, who has coached Long Beach to five county titles and also is leaving his coaching position. “He read and studied tactics and techniques and he developed great strategies for their matches.”
“I think of him like a young Bill Belichick,” Papach said. “You find him at lunch and he’s watching YouTube videos of volleyball. He’s always studying and trying to make his team better.”
Volleyball became Ringel’s co-pilot when he was at East Meadow High School and opted to pursue it instead of baseball. He went to Lockhaven University where he plays for its club-level team. It really took over when he was invited to coach at camps and attend coaching clinics. In 2000, he was at a clinic and listened to John Kessel from USA Volleyball discuss his teaching philosophies.
“It just made me feel like ‘I have to learn all these things,’” Ringel said.
Incumbent JFK coach Allen Ma asked Ringel to co-coach the 2009 Cougars as a transition. JFK won the county title that season and thus its dynastic run began.
“Playing for [Ringel] was like getting prep for the college game,” Brian O’Gorman, who graduated in 2011 before going on to play Division I volleyball at Cal State Northridge, said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. “On the day before a match, we’d be practicing against a group who played [the upcoming opponent’s] style.
“I played for a lot of coaches and he is still the best one I’ve had anywhere,” O’Gorman added.
Papach explained that he was so taken by the way Ringel’s team practiced, he invited other JFK coaches to “spend a half-hour at a volleyball practice” to see what they might glean and apply to their own practices.
Ringel clearly hasn’t lost the coaching bug, but as he explained “family has to come first now.” It’s pointed out to him that in nine years, he no longer will be going to high school sporting events and is asked about coaching again.
“I’m not saying I’m never going to coach again, but not for a while,” Ringel said. “Coaching is part of who I am and it has been for a long time. This decision was not taken lightly. I miss it already.”