'A huge impact on my life': Henry's skill, work ethic leads to soccer hall nod

Nov. 16—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — A prominent bullet point in Ryan Henry's list of accomplishments during his soccer career is the fact that he netted over 100 goals in varsity competition for Westmont Hilltop, helping to guide the Hilltoppers to Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference and District 6 crowns in 1996, '97 and '98.

As Henry recalled, his deft scoring touch was more about location than overwhelming skill when shooting.

The overwhelming skill displayed itself in other ways.

"I wasn't the best shooter, I was just really calm at placing the ball in the corner," Henry said. "That's kind of where I excelled. My dribbling was really quality, high quality. I was probably the best dribbler in that area during that time."

Speed and dedication to improvement were also killers in Henry's game, as the field clinical specialist for STERIS Endoscopy, a global medical supply company based in Austin, Texas, noted during a telephone conversation.

"Honestly, I was a little bit quicker than everybody," Henry said. "I practiced every second of every day. I mastered several fakes and step-over moves that created space in which I could maneuver easily past a defender."

Henry's ability and work ethic made him a natural choice to be a part of The Tribune-Democrat's first Soccer Hall of Fame Class, which will be inducted during a ceremony that will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday outside Cochran Auditorium at Greater Johnstown High School, prior to the annual Santa Fund Soccer Classic at Greater Johns- town High School's Trojan Stadium. The girls match kicks off at 5:30 p.m. with the boys game starting at approximately 7:30 p.m.

The class will be introduced and recognized between matches.

Henry will be joined by Wilfred "Buddy" Nicholson, Fred Galiote, Casey Gallaher and Ray Leverknight as part of the hall's inaugural class.

While keeping a mark on Henry was difficult for defenders during his time on the pitch, finding him two-plus decades after he graduated from high school took a multi-person search effort.

"The biggest thing is right when I heard, several people were trying to reach out to me and trying to communicate that I was going to be inaugurated into the hall of fame class," Henry said. "When those people reached out, it brought back a ton of memories. It was extremely heart-warming. I teared up. I immediately thought back to being in high school again, and how special those days were. Trying to kick butt at soccer and win games with your best friends."

Henry, who was also a member of the prestigious Beadling Soccer Club in Pittsburgh, as well as the PA West Olympic Development team, took his game to Marshall University and then St. Francis University after graduating from Westmont Hilltop in 1999.

He then logged time from 2002 until 2004 for a semi-pro indoor team in Austin, Texas.

The three-year member of the Pa. Soccer Coaches all-state team and two-time regional All-American as a junior and senior, recounted that offseason work helped build a strong bond with his Hilltoppers teammates.

"When I arrived at Westmont, I arrived with Dave Hindenlang," Henry said. "He was a 6-foot-8 goalkeeper. He was one one of the best goalkeepers, for sure, he was probably the best goalkeeper to come out of that area. Dave came in the same year as me, we were in eighth grade. Then when we went up to ninth grade, Dave and I were very serious about getting better at soccer. Once we started practicing, Elijah Peterson, Danny Campbell, Jason Kring ... They all started coming up and practicing with us during the summers, and we all put in time every summer together, growing and getting better and challenging each other."

The work paid off with a more intense appreciation for the game.

"All of us fell in love with putting that time in together," Henry said. "It just made our time together super-special."

Then and current-Hilltoppers coach Ed Corona, who nominated Henry and called him, "the most dynamic player to come out of this area," also played a big role in Henry's appreciation of the game.

"Soccer had such a huge impact on my life," Henry said. "It made me the person that I am today. It made me capable of getting through extremely difficult times and challenges. It helped me to learn that when I get knocked on my (backside), to get back up.

"Coach Corona being there all four years for us. Putting that time in for us every day. Being someone that demanded respect, but at the same time, gave us a lot of love and a lot of grace, was something that helped the person that I became as well."

Henry noted that his son Connor, who will play varsity-level soccer in Austin next year, had been kicking a ball since he could walk.

The younger Henry's love of the game has led to the Henrys traveling every weekend as Connor plays club soccer.

It also gives Ryan Henry a chance to pass along advice given to him by his mother, Jan Gold. It's direction that Henry applies to his daily life, even if it's a bit tongue-in-cheek.

"If you're not getting a red card, you're not trying hard enough," Henry said.

Shawn Curtis is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5085. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnCurtis430.