Thank You Salem College Soccer

Dear Salem College Soccer Team,

I said during our last game that “I love everything about this team,” and I meant every word of that statement. I love my coaching staff and wouldn’t trade them for any coaching staff in the country. I love the determination and relentlessness of all twenty-six members of the team this Fall. I love the quirkiness of each member of the team and how each member, through their differences, fit together like puzzle pieces to make a dominant team.

This team wasn’t perfect, no teams ever are perfect. All teams have their ups and downs, but one of the best parts of this team was how easily you put the imperfections of the team behind you to merge together to have a stellar season.

The first husband of Salem College, Bert Lain, told you all that through his journey to nine different institutions, including two of the best athletic departments in the nation, UNC and Stanford, this version of the Salem College Soccer team was his favorite team ever to watch. Bert is one of the most intelligent people I have ever met, and he knows what he is saying when he talks about the guts this team stepped on the field with every game.


There were some doubts at the beginning of the season how a team with only one senior that was joining a new sixteen-member conference would handle a season. Anchored by Morgan and the leadership of this team, everybody came together after a couple rocky pre-season games to put together the best season in school history. You can read this article to see all the great accolades this team has received so far (ARTICLE).

Players on the Salem soccer team don’t get the exposure you all deserve. Being in a city where one of the top men’s soccer programs in NCAA Division 1 doesn’t help, but you all continue to play hard for each other. We don’t have the same facilities as many programs in our conference or in the nation, but you all continue to play hard for each other. There isn’t a big crowd besides your families at the games, but you all continue to play hard for each other.


We have had great teams before in the history of Salem College Soccer that have achieved incredible accomplishments. Better than all of those accomplishments, we have great people that played soccer here and they paved the path for this season.

Salem College as an institution has the one of the brightest histories of any institution for women in this nation. What you all did this season is one of the greatest accomplishments a group of women has accomplished in the 245 year history of Salem.

This team defied all odds. You joined a new conference with sixteen members and won the regular season championship, which, to me, is harder than winning the tournament. The conference didn’t make it easy on you at all. You traveled more than twice as far throughout 2016 conference play as the team that traveled the second most in the conference, and over three times as far as most teams, but you still prevailed.

This program had never beaten Maryville College in our history, but you did it this year, and not just once but three times. Maryville was the New York Yankees of our old conference, the Great South. Nobody in the former Great South had won a game at Maryville since the early 2000’s until you all did it in one of the most exciting games I have ever been a part of as a coach or player. This team came together to put on a stellar performance in your first ever USA South playoff game to defeat Maryville and move to the USA South Semifinals.


We don’t get huge crowds as I mentioned earlier at home, but you all continued to be valiant soldiers protecting your home turf. Once again, we went 10-0 at home this season. This program now is riding a twenty-five game home win streak protecting the Salem soccer field. In fact, our last home loss was in 2014 to the number one team in the country and eventual national champions of Lynchburg.

In the USA South Final Four, once again, you all had the odds against you and you defied them by having to go on the road as the number one seed for the semifinals and championship weekend. Playing on turf was a bit like kryptonite to Superman for us this season and you had to do that during the Final Four weekend. We didn’t play our best game this season in the semifinals, but you never let your guards down and once again you pulled out an exciting overtime win.

Even though, we lost the championship game, the last twenty minutes were the best twenty minutes you all put together all season. Falling behind, 2-0, with 20 minutes remaining, would cause most teams to buckle, but you all stepped it up. We got one goal back with 12 minutes left.

Life is a game of inches where mistakes can be made, and our season ended that way. You all battled to the very last second of our season, and you scored the goal that should have tied the game and sent us to overtime, where there is no doubt in my mind that you all would have prevailed. Unfortunately, the referees made the mistake of missing the clear goal, which ended our season.

You can clearly see the white goal-line, then green grass, and then the ball with the goalie deep inside the goal.

Even without the tournament trophy, you all are true champions due to your character, your effort and determination, and your hearts. I am truly privileged to be a part of what you all did this season, and I can’t wait to see what you all can do together as you continue on your path as soccer players, tremendous students, and great people.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart,


My Flight From Hell

A boy landed on a flight in Sweden sitting in the airplane restroom, scared out of his mind, and it was all my fault!

I’m sure that if a psychiatrist diagnosed me writing my first novel, Collisions, about a plane crash, it would definitely have something to do with my fear of flying. When I get on a plane, the entire flight feels like I am stuck in the garbage compactor with Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca in Star Wars-Episode IV. The walls of the plane feel like they are slowly closing in on me the entire flight.


No matter how long the flight is, I literally like to stare at the headrest in front of my seat for the entire time. I don’t like to talk to anybody, eat the food, or watch the movies on the flight. Before I left to study abroad in Glasgow, Scotland in 2001, my doctor prescribed me with Xanax to take on all of my flights. I still stared at the headrest in front of me, but now I could also get some shuteye on flights. I had to double up on my Xanax intake on that flight to Scotland, since it was literally one week after 9/11. I slept the entire flight, and even fell asleep in the taxi from the airport to the University of Glasgow.

In 2009, I was selected to coach an under-19 women’s soccer team representing players from all over the United States at the Gothia Cup in Gothenburg, Sweden. The Gothia Cup is one of the largest youth tournaments of any sport in the world. There were boys and girls teams with our group from the ages of nine to nineteen.


I did okay on the flight from Raleigh to New York. About forty-five minutes before the nine hour flight to Sweden was set to leave, my nerves were in high gear. I went into the bathroom to take my dosage of Xanax, ready to be knocked out before the flight even left the runway.

Unfortunately, when I walked out of the bathroom, the director of our group was looking for me. He had a nine-year-old little boy, who just happened to be the youngest member of our group. He told me that the boy was scared to fly and had never left his parents before, and he was going to sit by me on the flight. First off, why in the world would you send your child halfway across the world for a week long soccer tournament, if he has never been away from you in his life?

As I walked past some of the other coaches in the group who finagled their way to get first class seats, the drowsiness of the medicine began to kick in. I sat down with the young boy beside me, and drifted off right after the buckle your seat belt sign lit up. In what couldn’t have been more than ten minutes, I was startled awake by a tug on my shirt. With tears in his eyes, the boy told me he wanted to get them to turn the plane back around. In my woozy state, I tried to calm him down. Once we were done talking, I popped another half Xanax to knock myself back out.


After dozing back off, I felt another tug and the boy needed me to walk him to the bathroom. We got back and I realized that there was no way I was sleeping, so I went back to staring at the headrest for the rest of the flight or that was the plan. After several more tugs on the shirt to see the boy crying, the flight attendants brought the food trays around. I didn’t eat anything, but the boy downed everything on his plate.

After the trays were removed, I popped another Xanax (these were the smallest dosage pills) and was soon back asleep. This time I was awoken with vomit to the shoes. The boy became airsick and threw up all over the floor and my shoes. This sent me into major freak out mode, and at this point I was hoping they would turn the plane around or land it on some unknown island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

The mess was all cleaned up, but the boy was nowhere close to being done throwing up. He must have eaten a man’s worth of food that whole week, because is was non-stop. For the next five hours I dealt with him getting sick, wanting to go to the bathroom, or crying.

With about one hour left in the flight, I was faced with a personal ultimatum. Since the meds were wearing off, I could suffer through the last hour, or take one more pill and be drowsy when we arrived. I popped the pill in my mouth, and became super tired this time. With thirty minutes left in the flight, the boy wanted to go back to the bathroom because he had to go number two. I told him he could handle it himself this time, and I passed out as soon as I saw him enter the bathroom.

This time I was awoken by that jolt you feel when the plane wheels are positioned for landing. I noticed that the seat belt signs were on and that we were very close to landing. I looked to the seat to my left, and there was no sign of the little boy. I was also extremely groggy, but I tried to push the call attendant button and nobody came to check what I needed, since the flight attendants were already buckled in for landing. I honestly thought about getting up and going to see where the kid was, but I figured maybe he just found another seat or the attendants had him.

The plane landed in Sweden with a rather rocky landing. When the unbuckle seat belt sign came off, I stood up to see a rather perturbed looking older blonde woman escorting the boy back to his seat. The kid literally looked like he had just seen a ghost. To give him some credit, I am not really sure how anyone would handle landing in the restroom of a plane.

The flight attendant gave me a death glare and asked why I let him sit in the bathroom for the landing. I had no response, because well, how in the heck do you respond to that question? I did see the boy throughout our time in Sweden and he didn’t seem to hold any ill-will towards me, even though I am sure he still remembers landing on a plane in the bathroom. Needless to say, I didn’t have any kids to look after on the return flight, and rested peacefully for the entire trip.

Famous Winston-Salemites: Wells Thompson

Winston-Salem is one of the greatest small cities in the world. Famous Winston-Salemites will feature some accomplished people that lived in Winston-Salem and now have moved on to do great things. All of the questions will be about their time in the Twin City.

*Wells not only is a great soccer player, but he is also as nice of a guy as you can be. We were showing the 2011 Women’s World Cup at a/perture and did a giveaway. I wrote Wells and asked if he could get us a signed autograph, and he next day delivered it to get it to the theater in time for the championship game and giveaway.


Wells Thompson was born and raised in Winston-Salem. After a successful career at Reynolds and Forsyth Country Day, he went on to be a star at Wake Forest. He was selected fifth overall in the Major League Soccer (MLS) Superdraft in 2007. After three years as an all-around midfielder for the New England Revolution, he was traded to the Colorado Rapids. In 2010, Wells was an integral part of their run to the MLS Cup Championship title. Wells played in 2013 for the Chicago Fire, and has played the last two years for the Charlotte Eagles and the Carolina Railhawks (Raleigh) in the United Soccer League.

Wells also excels off the field, as he was named the 2011 Rapids Humanitarian of the Year. He currently hosts soccer camps and private coaching in the North Carolina area (, and he also writes a blog. Wells has been married to his wife, Daphne, for four years as of this past December. They have a son, Declan, that will turn two this April, and a golden retriever, Spirit.


Winston-Salem Questions:

How long did you live in Winston-Salem?
I was born and raised in Winston. Since I went to school at Wake Forest University, I lived in Winston from birth until I was 23, except for a one and a half year period in high school when I lived in New York.

Which Winston-Salem streets have you lived on?
When I was born, I lived for several years on Red Oak Lane until we moved to Englewood Dr.,  where my parents still reside.

What different Winston-Salem schools did you go to?
I went to Summit School from Kindergarten through eighth grade. I then went to Reynolds for one and a half years. And then after one and a half years in New York, I came back to Winston to attend Forsyth Country Day School for two years.

Who were your favorite teachers at each school?
Summit School had the best teachers. Some that come to mind are Mr. Wilcox, Mrs. Greene, and Mrs. Standefer. At Reynolds, I was very fond of Coach Williams. At FCDS, Hank Battle, Mrs. Funk, Mr. Cordray, Anne-Taite, and Coach Turner were all great teachers and people who blessed my life greatly.

Did you play any other sports besides soccer growing up?
I did. I played competitive baseball, basketball, ice hockey, golf and even swam on the swim team.

What club soccer teams did you play for in the area?
Winston-Salem Twins.


Did you have any coaches in Winston-Salem that had a major impact on your growth and your career?
Absolutely. Coach Jerell York was my first club soccer coach and he was phenomenal. I just remember him being an awesome guy who loved the game of soccer and loved us kids. He made his players want to play for him because of the kind of man that he was.
My dad is certainly someone who comes to mind here. He was also my YMCA basketball coach. My dad, and mom, played such a pivotal role in my life and still do. They encouraged me and my brother and sister to stay active and involved in sports. They were athletes growing up so that, no doubt, played a huge role in why my parents encouraged us to stay involved.
Coaches play such an important role in kids’ lives. Dr. Billy Graham said, “One coach will impact more young people in one year than the average person does in a lifetime.” All the coaches that I have had over the years have played a part in my development as a man and athlete. With certain coaches it is easy to make that correlation, but not so much with others. I’ve been so blessed to have some great men coach and mentor me throughout my entire life. I’m grateful for these men, for they have helped me become who I am today.

What were your top three local Winston-Salem restaurants?
Village Tavern, La Carreta, Sherwood Plaza.

If you were to move back to the area, where do you think you would want to live?
This is a great question. I am frequently back in W-S because most my family still lives there and I was asking my wife this last time we were in Winston. I’m not totally sure either. It would be nice to find a nice piece of land on the outskirts of town, but then again you can’t beat the charm and family feel of being in the Buena Vista area.

Were you more of a Hanes Mall or Thruway fan?
I was way more of a Thruway fan. I never have been a mall guy and because Thurway was way closer and more convenient, that pretty much sealed it for me.

If you were on a stranded island and could just have one breakfast for the rest of your life, which would you choose: Moravian Sugar Cake, Bojangles Biscuits, or Krispy Kreme Doughnuts?
Wow! This ain’t no joke. How the heck am I supposed to choose here? I can’t believe I am not going to choose Krispy Kreme, because they are my absolute favorite, but I’m going to have to go with the Moravian Sugar Cake. I think I could probably eat that on a more regular basis.

What is your favorite North Carolina Beach?
Atlantic Beach. We grew up spending our summers here at my Grandmother G’mommie’s beach house. My mom’s brother and sister both have a place at Atlantic Beach as well, so it’s always a big family affair when we go down. It’s probably one of my top three, if not my top, favorite places in the world.


Where is your favorite place in the mountains in North Carolina?
Valley Crucis. My parents good friends have a cabin there. It’s idyllic. There’s a creek that runs through the backyard and it’s about the most peaceful place I’ve ever been.

Did you ever go to Ziggy’s?
I absolutely went to Ziggy’s. I feel like everyone from W-S had to have at least experienced this place once in their life. And because I went to Wake, I had lots of opportunities to get down at Ziggy’s.

What was your favorite concert there?
Pat Green was probably my favorite concert that I saw at Ziggy’s. I went to see him while I was at Wake with a bunch of my college buddies. I was having a blast. I remember seeing a good buddy of mine at the concert. He was ahead of me, closer to the stage. I’ll never forget this. I wanted to get his attention, so I did what any buzzed college kid would do and threw an empty beer can at him. I missed with the first and chucked another one, not thinking anything of it. Well the bouncers didn’t respond too kindly. I got tackled and dragged outta that place so fast. I never did get my buddy’s attention, but that’s something I’ll never forget. Good times at Ziggy’s.

Follow Wells:

My Decade at Salem


Growing up in Winston-Salem, I really didn’t know much about the hidden gem of Salem College that was just a couple miles from my house. My mom had some good friends like Mary Ann Davis and Joy Van Zandt that went to Salem. Some of my classmates from my middle school went to the Academy for high school.

When I returned from college in 2002, my former high school coach was working with a very small club team at Salem. In 2005, he gave me a call and told me he was leaving Salem and that I should apply for the job. That call changed my course and set the path for my last decade. I love several things about working at Salem and here are the most important:


Both my biological family and my soccer family are at Salem College. My wife, Katie, and I get to raise our young family (McKinley-5 and Hudson-2) in our hometown with each of our great families nearby. My second family, consisting of young women from all over the country and my assistant coaches, is the soccer team at Salem.


I started my family at the same time as I started the Salem soccer family, and I won’t ever be able to do that anywhere else. When Kim Fierke had the guts to hire a twenty-five year old with just a little bit of experience, she essentially hatched a new family for me.

When I went to my first soccer meeting in August of 2005, only five people showed up. Luckily a first year from Wisconsin and one from Alabama were two of those five and they helped me forge the path of the program, just by helping me get through that challenging first year. I had to literally go into the Refectory at Salem and find players to fill a team that could compete in our first year of games.


In just ten short years, the soccer family at Salem has grown exponentially. One of my favorite times of the year is Salem Soccer Alumnae Weekend. I see pictures of alumni games at other schools and there are only a handful of players there, and their NCAA programs have been around for decades. We are just a decade old (as a NCAA program) and we had over twenty alumnae at our last game. I am proud to see former players that are now forging careers as doctors, teachers, accountants, coaches, dentists, mothers, etc.  It gives me pleasure to answer questions that I still get from former players in several categories including jobs and relationships (even though I really have no idea what I am saying most of the time in this area).

There are several small traditions that have been established here at Salem. Katie (a nurse) gets frequent questions about injuries and health from members of the team. We have gone on two international trips to Italy and Costa Rica as a team. The plan is to go every three years. Currently we are 4-1-1 against international competition.


I have had several of my good friends help me as assistant coaches like Jon Hoban and Graham Lyles. My more recent assistants are now going advancing in the coaching field like Thomas Moore recently being hired at our alma mater, Reynolds High School. I get to have my dad help me every year. I had another mentor, Mike Hollman, help me for several years. I can’t get that anywhere else. We get to put my sister’s movie theater (a/perture) on the back of our warm-up shirts every year. During preseason each year, one of our long runs goes by the house where I grew up and we stop by so my mom can give the team water.

History and Location

Imagine being able to walk out your office door and being transported back 250 years. Where else can you do that besides at Salem? Maybe William and Mary, but I can’t think of anywhere else. As a fan of history, it is great to just be able to walk out the door and walk around campus to see buildings that George Washington visited over two centuries ago. Every time you walk through our campus you can learn something new about its history. There are only a handful of schools in the entire country that are as historical and beautiful as Salem College.


As I walk through our majestic campus, I can turn north and see the skyline of my favorite city. Along that skyline is a building that my dad designed. I can walk downtown and meet my mom for lunch on Fourth or Trade Street where my dad had a vision twenty years ago of a revitalization project. I can catch a movie there at my sister’s theater, and then meet my family for pizza at Mellow Mushroom.


I can take recruits and players around Winston-Salem and show them the stomping grounds of my youth. I love telling them stories about different places in town. I drive them around and tell them about my memories like when I took a date to Reynolda Village and got us locked out forcing us to walk a mile to her house, or where I hit my first home-run at Miller Park, or where I used to hang out at the President of Wake Forest’s house.

A Winning Tradition

Every coach wants a winning program, and they aren’t being honest if they say they don’t.  The NCAA has a record book that contains the best win-loss turn around as a category. Due to a silly rule, Salem’s 2007 team doesn’t qualify since we did this in the final two years of our NCAA DIII provisional membership trial, even though we did it against NCAA schools and were considered a NCAA member. Our 2006-2007 turn around not only would rank as the best ever turn around in women’s NCAA DIII soccer history, it would be the record across all three divisions. We went from 1-15 to 15-1-2 in one year, which is a turn around of 14 games and almost every team we played beat us the year before.

teamhuddle1We have won three tournament championships, four conference regular season titles, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament twice in the ten years of the NCAA program. We are the only women’s college in the country that has been to two NCAA Tournaments in the past five years. We are the only North Carolina DIII women’s soccer program that has won at least ten games each of the past seven years. We have one of the best winning percentages in the entire South Region over the past four years (64-14-2).


We aren’t where we want to be yet, but we get better each year thanks to the legacy of the players that have already worn a Salem jersey. We are entering a much more competitive conference next year, and we won’t be happy unless we win the entire conference. We have shown that we can compete with almost any school in the entire country in Division III. We also have shown that we can compete with and beat several NCAA DII programs.

The Challenge

I love a challenge. I feel like I can always be challenged at Salem. Some things come easily here. When recruits step foot on campus, they are going to be hard-pressed to find a more serene campus. We have one of the best admission’s departments in the nation, and they make my recruiting job a lot easier. We have an excellent President (and President’s husband), and a faculty that helps to push our players in the classroom. We have excellent alumnae at Salem that make my life easier.

My players do much better academically than I did in high school, and you have to be a quality student to get into Salem. I have no problem telling them that I don’t just expect a NCAA qualifying 2.0 from them, but that they should shoot for a 3.0 or better every semester. Having the quality students we tend to get at our soccer program, helps to ease the academic worries other coaches might have at other institutions.


There are definitely challenges here. Some of the challenges would be experienced at any school. As a coach, you are always going to have players upset over playing time, your rules, and the way you run your program. That is part of the job. Recruiting to a small all-women’s school can be a challenge though. I always say that I would love for some big time coach to come try to recruit at a small school to see how good they actually can recruit. Recruiting is one of my favorite aspects of the job. I love the challenge that every recruit gives me, and it’s a tremendous feeling every time a prospective student commits to Salem.


My Coaching Goals 

Striving to match or best our goals at Salem is something I always talk about with our team. It is important to set goals and once you achieve them to set new and more challenging ones.

We are entering a new conference that will soon consist of eighteen schools, where the majority of the schools have women’s soccer programs that have been around for much longer, with bigger budgets, better athletic facilities, and that are from co-ed schools. We don’t just want to go in and be an average team in the conference. We want to go in and win. The goal is not just to be one of the best, but to be the best team in the conference. We want to advance back to the NCAA Tournament and not just settle for making it there, but also to make a statement there.

I have personal goals as a coach as well. I want to get to 200 wins in the next six years. I have had All-South Region players, and now I would like to get some All-Americans. I want to continue to see our soccer facilities grow to match the top facilities in our region and for our game attendance to keep growing. We are about as diverse geographically and culturally as any college women’s soccer team you will find. In our first ten years we have had players from twenty-nine different states on the Salem Soccer roster. It would be great to continue to raise that number of represented states.

A lot of great things have happened for me here in my first decade at Salem and I owe a huge thanks to my players and assistant coaches. Hopefully my next decade of coaching can be just as satisfying.

early years





My First Gatorade Bath-Why I Coach

Gatorade baths to coaches are like walking into a surprise birthday party or getting your first kiss. They are a very American way of celebrating an important victory in sports. Chicago Bears Hall of Fame Coach Mike Ditka was the first known coach to get doused with the sports drink in 1984. Gatorade dumps are sacred moments that some coaches never get to experience. I was lucky enough to experience my first orange bath in just my second month of coaching.

Like many college graduates of the past couple decades, I really had no idea what I wanted to do when I graduated. I had just finished with a journalism degree from West Virginia University and didn’t really want to use it at the age of twenty-two. In spring of 2002, I moved back to Winston-Salem and I was living in an apartment with my friend, Graham Lyles, near Hanes Park.

We slept in late, frequented bars like Black Bear and The West End Opera House, and we held off becoming adults as long as possible. Graham was interning at Baptist Hospital and applying to medical schools and had his life figured out. I had no idea what I wanted to do with mine. I had my first two jobs fall in my lap and they both would alter my course.

I was living my lazy life that summer and I ran into Coach James Williams, my high school soccer coach at R.J. Reynolds. He told me that he had a friend that was just hired as the varsity boys soccer coach at North Forsyth High School. He was looking for an assistant coach and junior varsity head coach. I agreed at the time just so I could say that I had a job, even though it was just part-time.

I had to get more work so I substitute taught in the school system. After two weeks, I subbed in an autistic classroom at Jefferson Elementary, and luckily for me, a position opened and I was hired in that classroom the following week. Coaching high school requires you to have a job that gives you afternoons off, so this job at Jefferson was perfect. Working with autistic kids for two years was something I won’t ever forget, but that is for a different blog.

North Forsyth was a decent program when I was in school four years earlier. The dynamic of the team and the diversity of the school had changed substantially in just four years. The school had a much larger Hispanic population and the soccer program went significantly downhill due to a decrease in talent-level, but more importantly not being able to keep good coaches around.


Being twenty-two, I really didn’t research the coaching position like I would research a job nowadays. North Forsyth’s J.V. Boy’s Program didn’t win a game the year before. They not only didn’t win a game, they didn’t score a goal!

My first day was the first day of tryouts. The j.v. pool was eighty percent Hispanic, ten percent country, and ten percent from the travel team crowd that I grew up playing with. There were Hispanic players around when I grew up, but they wouldn’t try out for their high school teams for various reasons.

I was twenty-two at the time, but I looked sixteen at most. I could have easily been one of the players in the eyes of the parents and other players walking down to tryouts that first day. Tryouts were easy since the varsity coach put them together. All I had to do was evaluate the players I wanted, which was also simple since there weren’t enough for me to make any cuts. I was going to get what the varsity coach didn’t want.

There were two freshmen wearing Twin City Soccer Club shirts that I really wanted on my team. They had grown up playing in the same club I played on and you could tell. They were as talented as the juniors and seniors out there. It was all up to the varsity coach. Did he want to keep 18 or 20 players and give me 16 or 18. He decided to take the two players, and put me on the back-foot of my first coaching job right off the bat.

My goalie was on the larger side of the scale. Some of the Hispanic players didn’t speak English, so I had to designate two of the players as team translators. The Hispanic players were my most technical players, but they also didn’t have any history of playing for an organized team. I had a couple players that had played organized club soccer and a couple players that had just a couple years of recreational soccer under their belts.

It was a rag-tag group of players, with a young coach with absolutely no coaching experience playing in a conference with schools with much more soccer history and soccer talent. The cream of the crop in the conference that year and many years before was Mt. Tabor High School. Their varsity team ended up winning the North Carolina 4A State Championships that year.

I knew a lot about Mt. Tabor, because they were my high school’s rivals for four years. Unfortunately for the first three years, it wasn’t much of a rivalry. Thanks to a long goal by my good friend, Daniel Eggers, we beat them just one time in at least eight attempts my freshmen through junior year. My senior year, they not only were more talented than my team at Reynolds, they were also more talented than most teams in the country. They were ranked in national high school polls and first in the state. My senior year, I learned that you could beat the talent of Mt. Tabor with heart and brains. We ended up beating them twice that year and winning the conference title for Reynolds for the first time in over a decade.


Their junior varsity team was more talented than the varsity team at North Forsyth. We did okay the first couple of weeks of games. We actually had a couple ties and had scored some goals. Then we had to play Mt. Tabor. The game was at home and there was a large crowd filtering in to the stadium in anticipation of the varsity game with the top team in the state.

They scored two goals in the first five minutes, and that was all she wrote. They were up by six at half, and cruised to an 8-0 win on our field. An 8-0 soccer win is equivalent to a 56-0 football win or forty to fifty point blowout in basketball. When a team starts to play keep away from your team, it is very embarrassing as both a player and a coach. Mt. Tabor played keep away from us for the majority of the second half. In losses, coaches look for bright spots to move forward. There were no bright spots except for when the referee finally blew the whistle to end the game.

The week didn’t get much better as we went to powerhouse Greensboro Page and they beat us 10-1. Conference play didn’t get off to a great start to say the least. Over the past twelve years, I have learned a lot about coaching soccer technically and tactically. No matter how much I learn about systems of play or the newest moves, it still won’t compare to as much as I learned that following week about coaching from the heart.

The week before we traveled to Mt. Tabor I made practices more fun. We still had our fair share of fitness, which is still important to me as a coach, but for the most part the team left every practice happy even though we were coming off two atrocious games.

During that first slaughter with Mt. Tabor, I also learned how important it is to really get to know your competition. I paid close attention to Mt. Tabor’s strengths and weaknesses. In their 8-0 win, there were a lot more strengths on my list than weaknesses.

We got off to a good start to the re-match week with our first win of the past two seasons and it was a conference win. There was a spark in the team that week that I didn’t see before and they actually believed they could win at Mt. Tabor. Though I didn’t have the same confidence, I did feel that we would have a better showing that the 8-0 drubbing from the first game.

Just like most j.v. games in high school sports, nobody really shows up until the second half to get ready for the varsity game. This played into my plan. My players didn’t have much to be nervous over since nobody was there, and the Tabor players didn’t really have anybody to impress on their side.

In sports it is hard to get psyched up for a re-match after you killed the team the first time around. I knew that the first ten minutes of the eighty minute game would set the tone for both teams. I constantly repeated to the team that week to not let them score the first ten minutes. If we held them the first ten, we would have a shot for the whole game. We not only held them off the scoreboard, we knocked in a goal. The first game we didn’t have a shot all game, and the second game we already had a goal in the first ten minutes.

We woke a sleeping giant after that goal and they pounded on us the rest of the half. My large goalie was diving left and right and playing out of his mind. He was “in the zone.” I also had a budding star emerge. He was by far my smallest player, probably no taller than five feet and around a hundred pounds. He was very similar to my size when I was a freshman at Reynolds. He also spoke very little English. That day at Mt. Tabor, he came out of his shell. He was dribbling circles around the much larger and stronger Tabor players, who were wearing the navy and white striped hand-me-down jerseys from the varsity team that I played against when I was in high school. He provided the first assist on a beautiful pass and he was our only real offensive force in the first half.

At half time, the team was as excited as a team could be and I had to tamper down their excitement a little bit. The stands were starting to fill for the varsity game and I knew that it would be hard to repeat our first half performance, especially with Tabor now having a reason to play. Once again, I emphasized the first ten minutes of the half. “Hold them again and we can maybe beat them,” I repeated over and over.

Miraculously, once again against the run of play, we scored and shockingly took a 2-0 advantage. They threw the kitchen sink at us for the final thirty minutes. As each minute passed, I pushed my team further and further into our defensive end and made as many time-killing substitutions as I possibly could. With about ten minutes left our line of defense cracked and Mt. Tabor struck a goal to cut our lead to 2-1.

Fortunately, they never really had any good chances over the last ten minutes.Our parents were standing and cheering and our varsity team bypassed their warm-ups to cheer us on for the final minutes. With a final couple clearances of our defensive area, we held Tabor off and the ref blew that final whistle, which is music to a coach’s ears when he or she is winning a close game.

My team stormed the field, which is very rare at that level, and to my surprise I had the chilling relief of the Gatorade bucket dumped on my back by a couple players on the bench. Freezing ice being poured over your head on an already chilly day might not sound like fun, but it is one of the greatest thrills a person can experience. I spent the next ten minutes shaking hands of parents and even the varsity coaches from Tabor. That whole time I could hear and see our old, white activity bus shaking with cheers and jumps while I was more than fifty yards away. The ten-minute ride back to North was filled with songs like “We Are the Champions,” and even some Spanish songs where I had no idea what they were singing.

The game also didn’t end up being a fluke. Later in the season, we played Page at home and after their 10-1 slaughter at their place, we played them to a 2-2 tie at home. We finished the season with five wins and three ties from a team that didn’t win the year before. Though the Mt. Tabor win was just a junior varsity level win, it meant much more to me. It was the moment that I found out what I wanted to do with my life.