By Mal Boright
November 27th, 2013
There will be a new mentor on the sidelines next September when the Champlain Valley Union High boys’ soccer team opens the 2014 campaign.
After eight years, T.J. Mead is hanging up the whistle. But those were a boffo eight years.
They included four Division 1 championships and six trips to the title game. There were 116 victories, a mere 15 defeats and six ties.
Obviously there were solid players, but how else did such a mega-record happen?
Mead always said he liked to build his teams from the back. In other words, defense comes first.
Those teams with the strong back lines gave up just 69 goals in 137 games while chalking up 88 whitewashes.
“We gave up one goal or less in 118 games,” Mead told the Observer over a weekend cup of coffee. “The outcome matched the philosophy.”
And the 2013 team, which lost just two games while going to the championship contest where Colchester High prevailed 2-1, has 19 players scheduled to return next season. That is a full cupboard at the school known as Soccer Central.
In addition, coach Seth Emerson’s junior varsity aggregation went undefeated.
Mead said he is leaving the soccer program but will continue his teaching at CVU, where he teaches ninth grade personal health and physical education.
He cited his four-and-a-half year old son, Jackson, and one-and-a-half year old daughter, Cally, as considerations for leaving coaching, at least for now.
“They (the children) go through this part of life only once and I want to be involved,” Mead said.
Athletic Director Kevin Riell said Mead’s coaching will be missed.
“I have had the pleasure of witnessing T.J. as a high school athlete here at CVU and now as a CVU teacher-coach.” Riell said. “T.J. was a class act as a high school all-star and is presently a class act as a teacher-coach. The values he instills in his students is paramount.”
Mead said he started thinking about giving up the soccer reins a couple of years ago and then made a decision, which he kept to himself, before the start of the season.
He took over the program eight years ago from Dan Shepardson with a string of three straight Division 1 crowns going. T.J.’s teams added two more championships in his initial two seasons.
That’s called a seamless transition.
“Shep and I had similar philosophies,” said Mead, noting that he played soccer for Shepardson as a freshman jayvee and then as a senior after Shepardson had taken over the varsity job.
As with Shepardson, there are no histrionics on the sidelines from Mead during games.
“On game day, the game belongs to the players,” said Mead adding that the serious (teaching) coaching is done at practice.
“During the games you might change a formation or substitute players, but the game really belongs to them.”
He said coaches need to know their players’ tendencies so, for instance, at certain times during the no-time-out games, a player with offensive tendencies might be substituted for one more defensively oriented when events on the field call for it.
With his focus on defense, Mead wanted good athletes and his best technical players on his back line. The shutouts prove he was successful.
He said one of the key things he learned as he grew older in coaching was to give the team some breaks from the intensity of the 90-day season.
“You have to manage both the physical and the mental burnout,” he said. “You have to give them a day away from time to time. It took me a couple of years to figure that out.”
The debate as to whether athletes should stick to one sport year around or play different sports is, for Mead, an individual decision.
“I don’t think there is a model that fits everyone,” he said. ‘If you want to play at the college level, some think you should play that sport year around.”
Mead, who played soccer at the University of Vermont, said he cherished other sports while at CVU and called basketball his senior year, “a great time.”
“Kids need to keep fresh and excited,” he concluded. “Parents, high school coaches and club coaches need to manage this.”
Riell said the soccer opening will be posted for a minimum of two weeks or until the position is filled. A committee will be chosen to conduct interviews and make a recommendation to Principal Jeff Evans.