Long live the Strikers

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No practices are scheduled. No games are scratched into the small boxes on the calendar. No rosters are floating around in the car.

The spring soccer season for the Bluegrass Recreational Soccer League starts in a few weeks and for the first time since the spring 2006 season the Lexington Youth Soccer Association’s Strikers will not have an ex runner-turned runner again and sportswriter-turned Turf writer/editor as their coach. My coaching career officially came to an end last weekend when my Strikers topped the Sphinx 6-2 in the Finals of Session 2 of the 2012-’13 indoor season. It wasn’t the championship game, but a meaningful one nonetheless. We wrapped the session at 4-3-1, a point better than our 4-4-0 mark from Session 1.

The reality hasn’t quite sunk in yet, but it most certainly will as the weather continues to improve, the sun comes out more than the clouds, the grass starts to grow, and the days get longer thanks to the brilliance that is daylight savings time.

Coaching and covering racing crisscrossed a lot through the years, whether it was missing a league tournament or two while out of town at the Breeders’ Cup, asking for games later in the afternoon to avoid a conflict with hosting a handicapping seminar at Keeneland, or purposely scheduling an early game on Derby day so I could drive back to Lexington, coach, drive back to Louisville before the meaningful races started.

Both meant a lot, and both still do. The only problem is one of the two is now gone from life.

The end was always going to come, just as it does with nearly everything in life.

How it even got started is a long story-too long even for the endless space of the Internet-but the summary is basically that my involvement came as a volunteer assistant/fill-in-as-needed person only to become the full-time coach at the request of parents and players at the end of the spring 2007 season.

When the question was asked, “can you coach again next fall?” I said yes, thinking one more year won’t hurt. Then I always said yes. One more eventually became seven, and those seven years produced so many memorable moments. That’s inevitable when there are, by my count, 108 outdoor games, 96 indoor games, 14 team parties, and roughly 150 practices.

Two championships stand out, the first in the fall of 2011 and the second this past fall. Plenty of other games were great, too. The wins a little more, of course, but occasionally there were games that ended with the Strikers on the wrong end of the scoreboard that were memorable in their own way. I’ll never forget the greatly needed first win by my first team in late spring 2007, victories in the statewide rec tournament that wound up for naught when the event was rained out before the championship game, right through to the last two indoor wins.

Soccer re-energized my competitive spirit, made me feel like a part of the community, and helped me make a lot of friends. It provided an outlet, away from the myriad issues facing the Thoroughbred industry that we can all use a break from now and then.

Games were fun. Practices were better. That’s where you can teach. Get to know players. Talk about school, life, growing up, responsibility, being good teammates, accountability, having fun. Relationships with the players and parents continue to this day, whether bumping into them around town, taking in a JV or varsity game with a former player on the field, or via e-mail.

Soccer the first few years also provided a little taste of what it must be like to an owner, trainer or jockey, losing more than you win. Sometimes a lot more. All told a career outdoor record of 39-60-9 is nothing to brag about, although a percentage of 44.4% in racing (counted the nine draws as wins, even thought that would be a lot of dead-heats) would be pretty awesome.

Thankfully at this level coaches aren’t judged by wins and losses-although there were a few parents through the years that could get a little nasty. There was no need to focus on the negative then and definitely not now.

LYSA is such a great organization and the sport of soccer is truly a wonderful game that can teach people, young and old, about so many important lessons that they’ll use for the rest of their lives.

I’ll miss the great times with my players, organizing practices, setting up team events, and getting them ready for games on the weekends.

And I’ll miss the great battles out at Masterson Station Park, which might seem so small to many people but are big to both the players and at least one person who felt fortunate enough to be called ‘coach.’

Go Strikers!