Decatur boys soccer coach Brad Plemons couldn’t just say it. He had to prove it.
When Plemons took the head coaching position in 2016, he was inheriting a psychological nightmare. He was taking over a Gator progam that was conditioned to the idea they weren’t as good as the other three schools. Plemons wouldn’t have it, and he became hell-bent on changing the program’s culture and perception.
But Plemons couldn’t just say he wanted to change the Gators’ perception to students and the community; he’d have to prove he could tangibly change the program’s negative perception.
Decatur had a stretch in March where it played four games in eight days. Instead of giving his players a day off, Plemons loaded them into a district van and headed over to the Multi-Service Center. Once there, coaches and players spent the next few hours bagging 50 boxes of potatoes and diapers to benefit the city’s growing homeless population.
While Decatur didn’t get more than a “thank you for your time and service” from MSC staff, the bond it created, leading to a 12-4-2 season and its first appearance in the 4A state tournament since 2011, will last forever.
“Part of changing a culture is getting our community to recognize we’re not just a soccer team,” Plemons said. “We’re a program looking to do more than just play soccer.”
There needs to be more of this in high school athletics. There’s far too much individual focus and far too little community inclusion.
It’s one thing for a team to say it’s just fine because results have produced 60-plus straight wins, but it’s another thing to admit a school has an athletics image problem and turn to service in an attempt to remedy it.
While at the MSC, Plemons asked his players if they’d ever volunteered their time to an organization before.
Not a single hand went up.
After a couple hours of hard work, Plemons saw the immediate results of his risk to serve instead of rest. Players were closer than they were hours before.
“Even if we didn’t win a single game this year, the way we played because of this experience changed that culture,” Plemons said. “Guys began to believe in themselves and one another.”
The trip to the MSC set off a chain reaction. It led to team dinners and movie night.
Plemons has taken it upon himself to instill a trait in his program that many programs lack or simply ignore. He’s reminded his program through service events and bonding events that there are things bigger than the game.
Plemons has done remarkable work on the pitch and even better work off it with his team, from taking players to MSC to living by the hashtags “#SmithStrong” and “#BarbosaStrong.”
All three required players to compete for a greater purpose: the less fortunate [MSC], those they’ve lost [former coach Sean Smith] and those overcoming obstacles [teammate Jose Barbosa].
Coaches are busy people.
They don’t always have time to think outside the box. But they should all take note of Plemons’ work of making service priority No. 1. After all, the result helped lead the Gators to the state tournament.
When Brad Plemons took over after Smith’s passing, he said he hoped to change Decatur’s “3A-quality” perception and reputation.
After a 12-win season and countless acts of community service, Plemons didn’t just say it — he did it.
Jerod Young is the Mirror sports reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.