Three of southwest Missouriâ€™s high school soccer coaches have been approaching a significant milestone. Glendale Coach Jeff Rogers, Ozark Coach Tom Davidson and Rolla Coach Mike Howard will exceed the 500-win mark during the 2007-2008 school year.
But it is Glendaleâ€™s Rogers that is leading the way. He hit the milestone on Tuesday September 4th when the Falcons defeated the visiting Waynesville Tigers by the score of 4-0. Jeffâ€™s record includes 15 district championships, 14 conference championships, 10 quarterfinal appearances and two visits to the Final Four.
Growing up in south Florida, Rogers learned the game by playing pickup in the public parks and was formally introduced to soccer in a PE class while attending private school in Pompano Beach. His high school team, Highland Christian Academy, would achieve statewide honors during Rogersâ€™ tenure with the tradition-laden program. The squad went from state runner-up his junior year to state champions his senior year when the team also boasted two Parade All-Americans.
After attending and playing college soccer at Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga his freshman year, he transferred and completed his education at Liberty University, where he played lacrosse.
He began his Ozarks career at Glendale High School as an assistant coach in 1988. He and wife Jackie chose Springfield due to the fact that his parents and younger brothers were here. Jeffâ€™s father, Bill Rogers, was Pastor at High Street Baptist Church, while his brothers, themselves soccer standouts in their native Florida, would go on to attend Kickapoo High School and play for the Chiefs under the tutelage of Jose Florez. Like many transplants to this area, the Rogersâ€™ chose Kickapoo because of the quality of the soccer program.
It was the quality of the program at KHS, Glendaleâ€™s longtime south side rival, that would be one of the first challenges for young Coach Rogers to overcome. Goal one was to change the â€œquittersâ€™ attitudeâ€ that had grown up among Falcon players in the face of regular defeats to the Kickapoo program.
That change in attitude got a boost in 1990 when the Glendale Falconsâ€™ varsity squad took District Championship honors during Rogers first season as Head Coach. The win came in penalty kicks, against the Kickapoo Chiefs. Final Four appearances in 1991 and 1994 would underscore the Falconsâ€™ new, go-getting approach, and the rest, as they say, is history.
In the last 20 years, as soccer has grown in popularity across the U.S., the nature of the game has changed. As a player and a coach, Jeff says he has seen significant shifts in how youth soccer is played. He sees players specializing earlier, an approach that builds targeted skills but can also increase injuries and accelerate burnout. Pressure from overly competitive parents, an issue in all youth sports, has cast its shadow over the joys of pick-up in the park and unstructured play for fun.
The game as Rogers teaches it is about much more than technique, scoring, or win-loss stats, as parents and players can attest. A web site celebrating Jeffâ€™s 500th win features congratulatory notes from the community. While all praise him for his wins, it is his characteristics as a mentor, role model and coach that they single out.
“The number of victories is only part of the story. The impact and positive influence that you have had on so many young people, and parents, is something to be proud of,â€ wrote soccer parent Dale Donat. â€œI could not have asked for a better role model for Brandon during the vulnerable high school years.â€
And former Falcons player Matt Marinec agrees.
â€œYou made (me) and everyone around you the best they could be. You demanded the best, not for yourself, but for your players. We understood that,â€ Marinec wrote. â€œYou pushed us hard, yet at the same time you always kept that delicate balance between competitiveness and fun,
coach and friend.â€ The 500-win landmark is important, Marinec added, but it pales beside â€œthe number of people whose lives you have influenced in such a positive way over the years.â€
And weâ€™ll let current girls team player, Emily Jordan, close this.
Congratulations on the big 500. These past two years have been two of the best. Playing for you has been one of the best experiences I could have ever been put through. I feel that with every win we make you proud, but with every loss we disappoint you, because you love us and demand the best from us. When my Glendale teammates and I share stories of our â€œpapaâ€ the girls from other schools, (especially Kickapoo) get jealous because no other coach could be as great as you. I will treasure the next two years as I have the past two. Thank you for being my other dad on away soccer tournaments and trips. This year weâ€™re going to win championships.
Thank you for everything, I love you.
P.S. Goodnight, my angel.
(Editorâ€™s Note: Coach Rogers regularly puts together a reading list with the girls team and in fact reads to them on the many bus rides involved in traveling to Varsity events. Emilyâ€™s PS is in reference to a favorite book from last Spring.)
Clarissa French contributed to this story.