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Debbie Paul made her mark at Ridgewood High School in softball, delivering on 32 seasons as head coach, and in girls tennis, serving as head coach for 31 seasons.
Paul joined the Ridgewood High School faculty in 1973 as a physical education teacher. She had just graduated the previous spring from one of the best physical education preparatory schools in the world, Springfield College in Massachusetts.
Growing up in Milford, Conn., and graduating from Milford High School in 1969, Paul’s life was immersed in athletic endeavors, even though formal high school varsity sports had not yet emerged for women through Title IX legislation from the United State Congress.
As a 16-year-old junior in high school, she played a very high caliber of softball during the spring and summer for the Raybestos Brakettes, based in Stratford, Connecticut. This semi-pro team was one of the first women’s teams to offer organized opportunities for women to compete at an extremely high level. She excelled for five seasons for the Brakettes as a middle infielder while also playing intercollegiate field hockey and basketball at Springfield College.
Upon taking up her teaching position at Ridgewood High School, Paul took the reigns of the fledgling girls tennis and softball programs created at RHS, as Title IX legislation took effect, providing equal athletic opportunities for girls. Paul became a pioneer in the Bergen County sports scene and a strong advocate for equal opportunity for women in sports.
Her 1973 tennis team won the first Northern New Jersey Interscholastic League (NNJIL) championship offered, and then in 1974, she took over as the head field hockey coach for one season.
Upon returning to the tennis courts for the next three seasons (1975-77), Paul’s teams quickly reflected the excellence of her tutelage, sporting a 54-9 record over those three seasons, winning an NNJIL championship in 1977 as well as two Group 4, Section 1 State Titles in 1976 and 1977 and the outright Group 4 State Championship in 1977.
From 1978 to 2006, Paul had two interruptions in her tennis coaching career. In 1978, she took a leave of absence from the Ridgewood school district to earn a master’s degree in bio-mechanics from Purdue University. In 1985, she was on a one-year sabbatical, studying national patterns in the development of wellness-based curriculum in high schools across the United States
In each of those seasons (1978 and 1985), the tennis team reflected her development of guidance through interim coach Mary Ann Tierney winning a Group 4, Section 1 State Title in 1978, and taking an NNJIL Championship as well as another Group 4, Section 1 State crown in 1985. Both years, the team made the Group 4 State finals. In 1980, the Maroons racked up the first of four Bergen County championships and their second outright Group 4 state title.
Overall in 31 seasons (1973, 1975-77, 1979-84, 1986-2006) under Paul, the girls varsity tennis teams at RHS amassed a 567-112 match record, 25 league championships, 23 Group, Section 1 state titles and two outright Group 4 state championships while appearing in the state final four times. Paul was named Bergen County Girls Tennis Coach of the Year three times.
In 1974, Paul organized and coached the first girls softball team at Ridgewood High School. The sport was in its infancy in Bergen County, as Paul recalls schools having teams call each other to arrange playing formal games. There was no formal league structure in place. The team held varsity status from the school’s athletic department that season and would compete the following year in the newly organized girls division of the NNJIL.
The softball team took a slower climb to success than the tennis program, but under Paul’s steady leadership and coaching, the team emerged with a 17-7 record in 1978 while claiming its first Bergen County Tournament victory and its first two wins in the State Tournament. Paul was named Bergen County Softball Coach of the Year that season and would be named Coach of the Year three more times during her 32-year softball career (1974-78, 1980-2006).
Paul had built the framework of a very solid team when she took a leave of absence for her masters’ degree program in the study of bio-mechanics at Purdue University in 1979. The core of that team was built around 2010 RHS Hall of Fame inductee
Amy Lyons and current RHS head softball coach Patti Auger. The team, under interim coach Dave Vanderbush, went 26-2 and won the NNJIL, Group 4, Section 1 and Group 4 State Championships.
Upon her return to Ridgewood, Paul’s teams went on a great run of success from 1980 to 1986, amassing a record of 152-30 and winning their first Bergen County Tournament championship in 1981 while repeating in 1983. Those teams also won three NNJIL titles, four Group 4, Section 1 State championships and the 1983 Group 4 State championship. The 1983 team was named No. 1 in the state and awarded the Star Ledger trophy as such. The Maroons would go on another great run from 2004 through Paul’s final season of 2006, producing a record of 70-14, winning three NNJIL titles, the Bergen County Tournament championship in 2005 and the Group 4, Section 1 State title in 2006.
Overall, Paul’s softball teams amassed a record of 473-270 with six league titles, three Bergen County Championships, five State-sectional crowns and two outright Group 4 State championships. Her career win total of 473 currently ranks No. 1 all-time in Bergen County history.
In 2006, Paul was honored by the National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations by being named New Jersey Softball Coach of the Year and Northeast Softball Coach of the Year. Paul was further honored in 2006 by the Greater YMCA of Bergen County, receiving its prestigious award for significant contributions to youth.
Paul also excelled as a teacher in the Ridgewood school district, where she helped develop Ridgewood High School’s excellent reputation for its physical education and wellness curriculum. She was a leader in the fitness field and was instrumental in the incorporation of the school district’s Project Adventure programming. Her efforts helped move Ridgewood High School’s wellness programs into being a model that districts all over the state would try to emulate.
Having spent her entire career in the Ridgewood school district, Paul retired from the teaching and coaching profession after the conclusion of the 2006-07 school year.
Paul states she feels “very blessed to have had an opportunity to teach and coach in a district like Ridgewood.” She would like to recognize and express her appreciation for the professional mentoring she received during her career from Dave Marsh, former director of wellness for the Ridgewood school district, as well as from her teaching and coaching role models,
Dick Bennett and Kitty Batterson.
Batterson, the former girls volleyball coach at RHS, is a 2008 Ridgewood High School Athletic Hall of Fame induct
ee. Bennett was named Bergen County Boys Soccer Coach of the Century by in 2000. The Record