June 10, 2015
By PHIL GARBER Staff Writer
MORRIS TWP. – Geoffrey D’Aries might be one of the most well-known and best-liked young men in town; just ask Gov. Chris Christie, Don Imus, Donald Trump or Bobby Bonds to name drop a few who know D’Aries.
D’Aries, 31, is a 2004 graduate of Mendham High School. Count one of his fans as Douglas Kirk, who will retire on June 18 after 36 years as a Mendham High School English teacher and football coach at Mendham High School from 2007-12.
Kirk, 61, of Morris Township, has helped form a non-profit organization, “Geoffrey’s MVP,” to provide $2,000 scholarships in D’Aries’ name to students in Morris County who have been “selfless and sportsmanlike participants in Morris County high school football.”
In one of the organization’s first fundraising efforts, this September Kirk will take a 150 mile walk from the lighthouse at Sandy Hook to the lighthouse in Cape May. Kirk won’t be roughing it as he plans to stay with friends or in hotels along the way. He said he expects to walk from six to 10 miles a day.
D’Aries and other supporters plan to meet Kirk at the finish line.
“Geoffrey has been such a great supporter for Mendham football,” Kirk said. “The scholarship will be in Geoff’s spirit for a non-star.”
D’Aries is known in the area for his unmatched loyalty to the Mendham High football and basketball teams.
While at Mendham High, he attended every home and way varsity, football and basketball game.
“I just love football,” D’Aries said.
He was easy to pick out as he was the uber fan in the wheelchair. D’Aries has cerebral palsy and is visually challenged but his spirit has been undaunted.
“CP (cerebral palsy) doesn’t define me,” D’Aries said in an interview outside of the field house at Mendham High School.
Rather he lives by his own credo, “be positive, be around people and enjoy what you’re doing.”
D’Aries didn’t just attend games; he also was an inspiring presence at the annual football banquets. Coach Jim Baglin also often brought game films to the D’Aries home where he and Geoffrey would watch the film while enjoying pizza and beer.
D’Aries said he missed just one basketball game at West Essex Regional High School in Caldwell. A school official would not allow him to sit near the court and instead had him sit in a hallway where he could barely see the action.
That was the last time he went to a game at West Essex. Kirk said D’Aries has been such a strong fan that it seemed right to offer scholarships to the non-stars, like the cheerleaders, statisticians or other supporters of the team.
Many people have helped in forming MVP. Brad Kaplan, a lawyer in Chatham, donated his time to create the non-profit and paid the filing fees.The Peapack-Gladstone Bank offered an account for MVP with no fees.
Kirk was the assistant football coach when he met D’Aries in 1999.
“Geoffrey is a great friend,” Kirk said. “He’s been an inspiration to me. he has a great positive spirit and he’ll be a great ambassador for the scholarships.”
The feeling is certainly mutual.
“Mr. Kirk is a great guy,” D’Aries said. “They’re all great guys.”
Another of his admirers is William Asirrfi, D’Aries’s live-in aid.
“He’s a great guy and he’s never given up on anything,” Asirrfi said. “He’s ready to face anything.”
D’Aries’s father, Gary, said that doctors had a dire prognosis for the boy when he was eight months old and suggested he be placed in an institution. The boy proved the experts wrong.
“What he has aspired to is a tribute to him and my wife (Jeanne),” Gary D’Aries said. “We decided we would do everything we could do and it worked out. He is certainly an inspiration to me.”
D’Aries’ mother said her son is “a lot of work but a lot of fun.” She said the boy showed his character early on when a first grade teacher asked the children what they would change about themselves.
Some said they wanted to run faster, one said she wanted straight hair.
“Geoff said there’s nothing at all he would change about himself,” Jeanne D’Aries said. “I’ve never seen him get depressed or angry.”
He’s met many famous people, not because of his physical disability but because of his strong ability.
D’Aries was just 6 years old when he would regularly listen while Don Imus was on the school bus radio.
D’Aries wanted to meet Imus and coincidentally, his aide was a relative of traffic reporter Eileen Marchese Cohen, a member of Imus’ staff.
With Cohen’s help, soon Imus and D’Aries met and they struck up a friendship that has led to appearances on the radio show.
On Imus’ website, the irascible radio host referred to D’Aries as “a courageous, charming and funny young man.”
Several summers ago, D’Aries and his father went to a baseball game in San Francisco. They were speaking with an usher and before long, Bobby Bonds went in the stands after batting practice and gave D’Aries a batting glove and signed baseball bat.
D’Aries has been friends with sports announcer Mike Breen for several years. He often had the best seat at Madison Square Garden, seated at the scorer’s table next to Breen and his colleague, Marv Albert.
At one N.Y. Knicks game, Breen brought over a friend for D’Aries to meet, Donald Trump.
And there’s another well-known person closer to home who has gotten to known D’Aries. That would be Gov. Christie, part of a Christie-D’Aries mutual admiration society.
After the governor gave his state of the state address in February 2012, he stopped before leaving the Statehouse chamber to chat with D’Aries who went to Trenton with his parents to hear Christie.
“You made it!” Christie said, according to a published report.
“How did I do?”
D’Aries assured the governor. “You did very well,” D’Aries said.
“Thank you for inviting me.”
At an earlier meeting in June 2010, D’Aries and his parents met with Christie in his Statehouse office.
“Our visit was phenomenal,” D’Aries said in the report. “The Governor spent so much time with us and really made us feel welcome. After we left, I felt like this was the beginning of a great friendship.”
Friday, June 5, 2015
Everybody has some kind of issue, call it a difference, a disability, a challenge. Whatever the name, we all have it in various guises and degrees. Some people are not good at math; some can’t speak in public; some walk slower than others; and some can’t hear or see so well.
Some people can’t hide their challenges because they are the physical kind and not emotional or psychological. And others wear their differences on their sleeves hoping to elicit pity.
There are some people who succumb to their challenges, wallowing in self-pity while using their challenge as a reason for their failures or disappointments. Eventually they wonder why no one is listening.
And then others with differences just move on. They have no time for pity or self-doubt because there just isn’t the time to waste.
Mendham’s Geoffery D’Aries is one of those people who has no need for excuses as he is going to find a way to be happy and to succeed. D’Aries, 31, is a graduate of Mendham High School where he developed a reputation as a superfan, attending every football game and nearly every basketball game, both home and away.
It just wouldn’t have felt right if D’Aries wasn’t at the football or basketball game. His contagious energy and support was as important as the players on the court or the football field.
Through the years, D’Aries has become friendly with the rich and famous. Radio shock jock Don Imus knows D’Aries well and has had him on his show. Gov. Chris Christie met with D’Aries and his parents in his Statehouse office. Bobby Bonds gave D’Aries a pair of his batting gloves and a bat.
People like Imus and Christie are simply drawn to the optimism and inner strength of people like D’Aries.
Most recently, a non-profit group known as MVP was formed to give scholarships to those non-stars like D’Aries. They are the team managers (they used to be called water boys). They are the cheerleaders and the third team players who only get in the game when it’s a blow out.
MVP was formed by Douglas Kirk, who will retire on June 18 after 36 years as a Mendham High School English teacher and football coach at Mendham High School from 2007-12. Kirk started the non-profit because he is such an admirer of D’Aries positive attitude.
People want to be around D’Aries because of his positive attitude. It is quite astounding as D’Aries has cerebral palsy and a significant vision deficit. He’s certainly had it rougher than many people and yet he hasn’t allowed himself to be defined by his difference.
Most likely D’Aries is very well aware that at the end of the day he is responsible for his life and that no one else can bring him success other than himself.
It is a life lesson that many people never learn. There are many people who curl up and figuratively or even literally die in the face of adversity. They should take a lesson from the like of D’Aries.