Local Legend Celestin Leaving PU Women’s Soccer, Heading to Boston for Coaching Job at Northeastern
HEADING NORTH: Ron Celestin makes a point during a training session with the Princeton University women’s soccer team. After a 21-year stint as an assistant coach with the program, Celestin is headed to Boston where he has accepted a position as the associate head coach of the women’s soccer program at Northeastern University. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic
For generations of players and coaches, Ron Celestin has been the “mayor” of soccer in the Princeton community.
Moving to Princeton from his native Haiti as a teenager in the 1970s, Celestin starred for the Princeton High boys’ soccer team, helping the Little Tigers to CVC titles in 1978 and 1979 and earning All-County and All-State honors in the process.
After starring at West Virginia Wesleyan where he helped the Bobcats win the 1984 NAIA national title, Celestin returned to Princeton to start a career as a teacher and coach. He became a beloved health and physical education teacher at the Riverside Elementary School and took the helm of the PHS boys’ soccer team.
He guided the Little Tigers to a state title in 1995 and then took his coaching acumen across town to serve as an assistant coach for the Princeton University women’s team. In addition, he coached a number of girls’ travel teams and was instrumental in the founding of the N.J. Wildcats women’s program. He helped guide the Princeton women’s team to the NCAA Final 4 in 2004.
Along the way, his contributions have been recognized with a slew of honors, including being selected as an “Unsung Hero” by the Princeton Public Library, an award honoring members of Princeton’s African-American community “who in their own way have contributed vastly to the overall development and fiber of Princeton and the surrounding area through their profession, community service activities, talent or their everyday lives.” He was inducted into the PHS Athletics Hall of Fame in 2007 and the Mercer County Soccer Hall of Fame in 2012.
Now Celestin will be putting his stamp on another soccer community as he recently took a job as the associate head coach of the Northeastern University women’s program in Boston.
Considering his deep ties to Princeton, making the move to New England wasn’t easy for Celestin.
“It is probably the hardest decision to leave the University and the community overall,” said Celestin, 55, who still speaks with a West Indian lilt in his voice.
“This is where I grew up. I moved to Princeton when I was 14 years old, so I have been here from 1974 to 2016. It is hard for me to be here 42 years and get up and leave. I love Princeton and Princeton is always going to be with me. It has been my home for a long time and my children (Chantal and Ciara) grew up here. I leave with mixed emotions.”
During his tenure with the Tiger women’s program, Celestin formed an emotional connection with former head coach Julie Shackford, who guided the program from 1995-2014 and originally brought him to the staff.
“We balanced dynamics and my personality with her personality,” said Celestin, who has a special partnership at home with his wife, Annette, crediting her with providing support in all that he has accomplished.
“With that said, I think we shared the same passion for the game and with the knowledge we brought together, we were able to provide the best soccer environment we could have for our players.”
As a result of that positive environment, Celestin always felt comfortable providing his input to Shackford and the players.
“What I appreciated was that I was given the latitude to bring about whatever I felt was necessary for the team at that given moment,” said Celestin.
“I am an observer at first and I try to bring whatever I could to the team. I never felt like I was an assistant coach. Obviously, it goes without saying who was in charge but I felt like a co-coach. I felt I could stick to my strengths and whatever I was able to do to make the program better, that is what I did.”
Looking back on his tenure, Celestin views 1999 as a breakthrough season.
“The year that we first got to the tournament as a staff in 1999 was special,” said Celestin, who helped the Tigers win seven of its all-time eight Ivy League titles, make nine of its all-time 11 NCAA tournament appearances, earn seven of its eight all-time NCAA tournament wins, including the run to the 2004 NCAA College Cup semifinals.
“It was what really got us going, the program really needed that. From 1995-98, we didn’t go to the NCAA and then the following 4-5 years, we were one of the most powerful teams in the league. That year was key and the rest is history.”
The Tigers certainly made history in 2004, producing a spectacular 19-3 campaign and becoming the only Ivy women’s soccer team to ever make the national semifinals.
“We evolved as a team that year; we were evolving in the program,” recalled Celestin.
“I think that team from our first game on, we had the feeling that this could be a special year. But what they did, they didn’t just believe, they worked for it. They put their stamp on each and every game. To me, that was the important thing.”
When Shackford stepped down after the 2014 season, Celestin remained on the staff after Sean Driscoll took the helm of the program.
“I have never had an ego issue, I always check my ego at the door; that is one of the quotes that we use in the program,” said Celestin, who helped guide the Tigers to a 14-4-1 record last fall as the team won the Ivy crown and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tourney.
“With a new staff coming in I thought it was important for me to stay to support Sean, Kelly (Boudreau), and Mike (Poller). Continuity was important and I thought that was best for the program. I didn’t think about it twice when Sean wanted to keep me on board.”
For Celestin, going to the Northeastern program came down, in part, to the chance to work with its new head coach, Ashley Phillips.
“For me, it was an opportunity to do something different after 21 years at Princeton, it is not that I was feeling uncomfortable,” said Celestin.
“It is a great place to be, it is a great university. My younger daughter is there. Speaking with Ashley, she made me feel so comfortable and welcome. It was a chance to come there and help take the program to whatever level we can take the team.”
Celestin is confident he can establish the same working relationship with Phillips that he enjoyed with Shackford.
“It will be a lot more administrative and recruiting responsibility than what I had at Princeton,” said Celestin.
“My hope is that I will be able to do what I did here with that latitude. I am confident that Ashley and I can work collectively to try to bring the best out of our team. I am a doer and I will do whatever is needed. I am all about what is needed to help them get better.”
As he heads to Boston, Celestin is primed to impact another soccer community.
“I am very comfortable, I feel like I am home already,” said Celestin. “I am excited. I can’t wait meet the players and get to work. I hope to continue the success they have had the last three or four years.”