(Photo by Josh Mills, Staff)
SIKESTON -- Sikeston soccer is moving forward in leaps and bounds these days, thanks in part to varsity head coach Derrick Long and his coaching staff. Long has been the steering the ship of Bulldog soccer since 1998 and this season reached the century mark in wins.
Long, a product of Cape Central High School and a former member of the Southeast Missouri State University soccer team, coaches both the boys and girls squads at Sikeston and spent three years as an assistant at Jackson High School before making the transition to the Bulldog program.
"It's only been 10 years for me (at Sikeston), but soccer was around here for like six years before I got here," said Long. "The 100 wins (this season) was neat. It took me 10 years to do it, but you can't pat yourself on the back for that too much, because I would've rather done it in five or six years."
"I didn't know how long I'd last when I started here," he said. "We had a lot of work to do. It was a struggle for the first couple of years and we didn't win a lot of games. Then, we started getting the right kind of players in there and they started buying into the system and it really came around."
Long has enjoyed his stay at Sikeston to the point that he's started putting his thoughts into the youth programs that have been around for a while. He said that getting involved in the established youth programs will play a vital role in his high school program's success.
"I've planted so much in this program that I'm not going anywhere for a long time," said Long. "We're building this program and we're building a strong youth program now in accordance with the rec program and this program is going to come along quicker."
"We're not trying to step on the rec league because what we're doing here with this club program, is a lot of the dads that have kids that are in our club program are actually the rec league coaches, so, when they see how we do it, when they coach their rec league teams they're kind of getting a little better coaching too. I wish I had started it around 10 years ago because the competition already has strong club programs going on. If we don't get it going soon then we're not going to be able to try for state championships."
Long said that getting in on a personal level with the kids at a younger age is important to building a solid sports program, whether or not they choose to play soccer when they're old enough or go a different direction.
"All of the kids that I teach (elementary) I get to know well," said Long. "Getting to know them one-on-one builds familiarity with them and when they come around to ninth grade and they choose soccer, and even if they don't and they go the other way and play other sports, they've been around us for so long that we'll support them in anything they do. We think that we'll get some more quality players coming through and that's the key to it all."
As for his staff aiding him in the club soccer adventure, assistant coaches Doyle Noe and Gabe Dement both have plenty of soccer experience to go around. Noe has been with Long for around seven years while Dement played under the direction of the head coach and has one boys season under his belt. Both assistant coaches played collegiate soccer with Noe at William Jewel and Dement at Hannibal LaGrange.
"These 100 wins and all that stuff, Coach Noe was a big part of that," Long said. "He's kind of a silent partner with me, but once he came around like seven years ago, things started clicking. I had somebody that I could bounce ideas off of, an actual soccer mind, a guy that has played at the collegiate level. It just seems like once he came around it enhanced our team a lot more. I think we've been a good deal ever since."
Long said that he thinks Dement will make a great head coach someday because he's 'gung-ho' about the game and he's learning how to make the transition from player to coach.
Dement said that working under his former coach has been a good experience.
"I think that both experiences were and have been enjoyable," said Dement. I think the difference is that now we're more on a similar level. The heart and passion that he shows on the sidelines, you can see it when you're playing and as a coach you try to show the kids the same thing and that you're not just out there for a paycheck. You're out there to see them improve not just as players, but as people."
"His (Long) heart and passion rubs off on both coaches and players," he added. "The heart he instilled in me is what I used in college as a player and now as a coach."
Dement said that he thinks the club program that Long has started will have lasting effects on soccer in general in Sikeston.
"I think that the club aspect of soccer is great for the players," said Dement. "Not only do they get to play in rec league, but they get extra instruction each week that we're out there from coaches who are knowledgeable about the game and have been around it their whole lives."
Long and his staff dedicate themselves to a few nights a week for instruction as well as a few weekends a month to coach the club teams and Long said that he expects close to 11 club teams consisting of around 150 players before next summer.