STONINGTON — Stonington High's George Crouse has long held a reputation as one of the premier tennis coaches in the region and the state.
On Tuesday, that reputation went national as he was named was named the National High School Coaches Association national girls tennis coach of the year.
Crouse becomes the first Connecticut coach to receive the honor.
For Crouse, who earned his 500th career win as the girls coach and his 800th overall this season, it was a special moment.
"I was kind of shocked, but by all means I'm very proud," Crouse said. "I just want to thank the players and assistant coaches I've had over the years for doing so well.
"I guess it's the top award of my career. I didn't go outside and jump around, but it's certainly nice to be recognized."
Crouse coached the boys team from 1974-2000 compiling a record of 304-114. He started coaching the girls in 1983 compiling a record of 510-116 for a combined mark of 814-230.
Girls tennis was a fall sport for many years, but moved to the spring in 2001 and Crouse had to choose between the two teams. He decided to continue coaching the girls team.
The Bears were 16-2 this season advancing to the quarterfinals of the state tournament before losing to eventual champion Weston.
Crouse had to craft together a team that lost most of its lineup due to graduation. No. 1 singles player Gabby Dellacono, who won the state title last year as a junior, also missed the season with an injury.
Still, the Bears shared the ECC Division I title with Woodstock. Freshman Maddie Hamm won the ECC tournament singles championship. Cassie Onorato and Amelia Caron were the doubles champions.
Why have the Bears been so successful?
"They are willing to compete," Crouse said. "They are willing to listen and willing to work hard. Every player, from the top of the ladder to the bottom, knows what they have to do. We've been able to win a lot of matches 4-3."
What advice would Crouse give to a new coach?
"Try to instill in your players a desire to work hard and basically treat them fairly," Crouse said. "You want to instill in them a competitive spirit. I've always been a competitor in whatever game I play. Do the best you can and try not to settle for just being out there. Try to play to win."
Crouse is a retired Stonington teacher. He graduated from Stonington where he was a member of the Class M state championship baseball team in 1960. He later played tennis at Central Connecticut.
In addition to his coaching duties, Crouse has been the public address announcer at Stonington football games for more than 30 years. He was also the clock operator for basketball games for many years.
He has been a fixture at the school for years attending literally thousands of games.
He also thanked his assistants including Glenn Herbert, Joe Ciriello and Manny McDonald for their efforts with the program.
"I"ve had people with me that were very good," Crouse said. "It's a great honor. I want to thank those that decided to give it to me and thank all the players and assistant coaches for supporting the competitive framework I've tried to build."