‘For the love of the game’

By Adam Fenster, SPORTS EDITOR
On April 10, 2014

 

As he stands on the sidelines alongside women’s soccer coach Denise Schilte-Brown, associate coach Chris Brown and their assistant Jason Dowiak, Juan De Brigard will

sometimes look over his shoulder to see some of the children he’s worked with.

Being greeted with a ‘Hey, coach’ is all De Brigard really needs, he said.

In 2010, De Brigard was hired as a volunteer goalkeeper coach for USF, after more than 25 years of being involved in all levels of soccer, from coaching Division I teams in Columbia to training its national team.

To De Brigard, soccer is what’s most important.

In 2008, he felt it was time to bring the world’s most-played sport to children who normally wouldn’t get the opportunity to play. So he founded Soccer Goes to School, a non-profit organization teaching soccer to inner-city elementary schools.

Going from a life in professional soccer to dealing with children was an obstacle he was willing to take on, but not many could have predicted the impact he had on one girl in particular.

She was one of the older students participating in the 12-14 week program and had never said a word in her life.

One day, after leaving the field, the girl got into her mother’s car to go home — and spoke.

Elated, the mother called and told De Brigard what he called “a beautiful experience.”

Today, the experience is still fresh in De Brigard’s mind as his non-profit is involved with several schools in the Tampa area, benefiting more than 1,200 children.

Now, after Schilte-Brown and Chris Brown heard of De Brigard in the Brandon area, he is a volunteer coach for the USF women’s soccer team

“I call it luck,” Brown said. “It was a matter of Denise getting lucky with a phone call that she made several years ago and getting someone on the line that dropped (De Brigard’s) name to us.”

Since the Browns first met with De Brigard, they knew they had found their coach.

“We just heard really great things about how professional he was and how he got the most out of his players,” Brown said. “We were in the situation where we needed a goalkeeper coach and we kept looking and looking. We finally met with Juan and that was great. You can tell right away he was very honest, which is what I appreciate the most about him, he never really worked with women before and he felt like he was up for the challenge. He was going to treat it like everything else.”

But De Brigard’s role couldn’t be full-time.

Due to NCAA restrictions, teams are only allowed to have a certain number of coaches, leaving De Brigard to sign on as volunteer coach, a role he’s maintained for the past four years with USF.

“We all do this for the love of the game, but he’s the only one that proves it coming out here with no compensation,” Schilte-Brown said.

Though he stays busy with Soccer Goes to School in the afternoon, De Brigard manages to make it to every one of USF’s morning training sessions where he sees himself as something more than a coach.

“I believe that soccer is a very powerful educational tool,” he said. “I never coached soccer merely as a coach, I coached soccer as an educator. Every experience I’ve had as a head coach for Division I teams in Columbia or as a physical trainer with the national team has given me knowledge about soccer. But I am also a physical education teacher. So that makes it easy to put those two together and bring them to schools.”

But volunteer coach, educator or “part of the family” as Schilte-Brown said, the impact De Brigard makes is clear.

USF’s past three goalies have made it to the professional level, two of which under the tutelage of De Brigard. Nicole McClure being his first and Christiane Endler being the most recent Bull to go pro, signing with Chelsea FC.

In De Brigard’s first year with USF, and McClure in the net, the Bulls made it the farthest they ever have in the conference. Seeded No. 3 out of the Big East’s American division, USF made the conference finals, losing 1-0 to No. 22 West Virginia.12

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