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Ellis Williams column: The conclusion of Joseph Girard III's career marks the end of an unprecedented era

Ellis Williams column: The conclusion of Joseph Girard III's career marks the end of an unprecedented era

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The fans were gone, and the silence was jarring.

An hour before you could not hear yourself think amid the thunder of Glens Falls' first-ever Federation basketball championship inside Cool Insuring Arena.

It was time to put it in the history books.

Joseph Girard III’s career was over. He just delivered his final high school act.

When he emerged from the depths of the arena, he started the long climb up the bowl where his mother was waiting.

Hoping to squeeze every last joyous moment out of her son’s final varsity game, she shouted: “Wait, let me get a picture of you.”

Simultaneously, he turned around and waved at the few people still on the floor, as the dust from Glens Falls’ 88-79 victory over Cardinal O’Hara settled.

Three of us waved back at a young man who had been the epicenter of so much Post-Star coverage over the past five years.

As I watched Joseph climb, finally showing a limp from the injured ankle he’d been nursing since states, I thought this was fitting.

He started at the bottom five years ago, just an eighth-grade boy with a dream, and now he was here. A legend, whose individual accomplishments are unprecedented and whose team championships seemed preordained.

Of course, he was going to reach the top of those stairs and fall into his mother’s arms.

Just like he was going to win a state basketball championship, despite being down four points with 15 seconds to play in overtime two weeks ago.

His ascension is a credit to the will within him. There is no quit in Joseph Girard III. If there is a way to win, he is going to find it.

JG3 was going to reach the top of those stairs, no matter how long it took him.

Just as he was going to win a state football title despite being down 14-0 in the 2018 state championship game. Glens Falls went on to win 55-32.

And just like he was going to hit that last-second shot in Binghamton.

He doesn’t stop. He doesn’t complain. He just wins.

In his nine varsity seasons, five in basketball, four in football, JG3 won 145 games, while only losing 25 times. He won three Section II football crowns and two football state titles, and won two Section II basketball championships, a state title and a Federation championship.

Considering 11 of his career losses came during his eighth-grade season of basketball, Joseph Girard III only lost 14 athletic contests in his four years of high school.

The numbers are silly.

On the football field, he threw 89 touchdown passes and just 16 interceptions. He completed 62 percent of his passes while throwing for 6,924 yards and rushing for another 1,490 and 31 scores.

And just let these basketball stats sink in.

He totaled 4,763 career points, nearly 2,000 more points than the state’s second all-time leading scorer, Lance Stephenson. Of those points, 1,189 came from the free-throw line.

If the gold standard for a career is scoring 1,000 points, Girard did that with free throws alone.

He is a career 88 percent free-throw shooter and in his five varsity seasons, he averaged 39 points per game, including back-to-back 50 points-per-game seasons.

He’ll graduate with 26 career 35-plus scoring games, 34 40-point games, 22 50-plus performances, and four 60-plus games, including a Section II record 69 points in one game.

But his stats only tell the half of it. Because his career has been about the results, which are rooted in his undeniable desire to win.

Going out on top, JG3 exited Cool Insuring Arena, with his mother finally on his arm, the two fell out of my sight, escaping into the sunlight and essentially, out of my life.

That is when it hit me.

This is the end of an era.

An unparalleled era of winning and success.

Even now, this tribute feels more like an obituary. Because I doubt I’ll ever witness anything like Joseph Girard III again.

“It is incredible and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it,” Syracuse assistant coach Gerry McNamara said of JG3’s winning pedigree. “To win state championships in both sports, and player of the year in both sports, it’s remarkable and I know how hard he worked to achieve those goals.”

The Winning

“I do not like knowing what it feels like,” Girard III said of losing. “Whenever it happens, it sucks.”

Show me someone who enjoys losing and I’ll show you an individual that does not understand the concept of competition.

No one likes losing, but most of us accept that in life, and especially high school athletics, wins and losses are part of the experience.

Unless you are JG3.

He is that rare individual who truly refused to lose.

“His ability to never be satisfied and his ultra-competitiveness stand out,” National Recruiting Director for ESPN Paul Biancardi said in a recent phone interview. “He wants the next win and he wants the next bucket. And that is what makes him special, not only his want for more but his ability to work for more also.”

Like any great, JG3 got in the way of a lot of talented Foothills Council basketball teams.

Take away his eighth-grade season, and Girard III never lost a basketball game to Amsterdam, South Glens Falls, Schuylerville, Queensbury, Hudson Falls or Johnstown, beating those teams twice and sometimes three times in a given year.

“This group has overcome so much adversity,” Joe Girard Jr. said. “We’ve been behind. We’ve been in overtime. But they know how to win because these guys hate the feeling of losing more than they enjoy winning.”

The shortcomings

Despite all his successes, there have been notable disappointments, and JG3 will be the first to acknowledge them.

After going undefeated and winning the 2016 state football championship, Glens Falls lost in the state semifinals to eventual champion Pleasantville in 2017. It was the type of defeat that fueled this year’s Indians to eventual redemption.

On the court as a sophomore, he led Glens Falls to a No. 1 ranking in the state and a Section II title, before losing to Canton in a regional semifinal. Then in 2018, Glens Falls lost to Schalmont in the sectional semifinals.

He is likely not over them to this day.

Individually, he was left off the Team USA under-17 basketball squad this past summer and most recently, he was not named a McDonald’s High School All-American, despite being nominated.

“I don’t know what else he could have done,” Biancardi said with a laugh. “He shattered every record he could.”

The snubs fuel his athletic fire to succeed. As we all should have learned by now, counting him out or betting against him is a mistake.

But like all-star selection committees are doing now or the naysayers on Twitter, keep whispering he is not big enough or does not have what it takes, because it only fuels his fire.

He finds joy in proving others wrong.

“His resume speaks for itself,” McNamara said. “He is as accomplished as any high school athlete I’ve ever seen. But it’s the manner in which he plays that is going to bring excitement (to Syracuse). He plays with a fire and will do whatever it takes. That type of play inspires teammates and fans.”

The Future

I think I got it right in my final game story about JG3. I said his five-year song is over, but the music he created will live forever.

There is a lot of truth in that. The athletic masterpiece he forged in Glens Falls has run its course, but his next piece, like the ones before it, will still be for Glens Falls.

Everything he does is for this city. He bleeds the colors. For five years, he was fiercely proud to wear red and black and blindly loyal to GF Nation.

When Joseph Girard III hits his first big-time college shot, ends up on SportsCenter (again) or has his eventual “one shining moment,” everyone here can say they saw him here first.

And it’s not just people in the 518 that will be cheering for JG3 in orange.

I’ve got friends back home in Minnesota who are now Joseph Girard III fans.

While we wait patiently for his next act, lets cherish the still-fresh high school moments that brought Glens Falls a month, if not years of unmatched joy.

“Joseph has brought Glens Falls to new heights,” former Glens Falls star Jimmer Fredette said in a recent phone interview. “With social media, he has brought more attention to the city, which is great for Glens Falls and the entire area. He carried the Glens Falls tradition to a new level and kids will now look up to Joe and want to carry that tradition.”

I could not agree more.

To JG3, this is not goodbye. It is a thank you. I’m sure we will talk soon. Regardless, so many cannot wait to see what you win at next.

But for now, enjoy being a kid before it is time to walk across your high school graduation stage.

Because come next college basketball season, we’ll all be watching, while never forgetting what happened here.

Glens Falls Joseph Girard III senior season was a memorable one with a state title and a Federation title in front of the home crowd.


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