Chris Calvin, 32, is the new boys soccer coach at South Gwinnett. The 1998 South graduate, Calvin played soccer, briefly, at Winthrop and Georgia State before injuries ended his playing career.
The father of two young boys talks with staff writer Ben Beitzel in this installment of "Getting to Know..." about the growth of soccer, the very Washington way he met his wife and how he found his calling coaching.
BB: You played soccer at Winthrop and Georgia State, was it the same recurring injury that ended your playing days?
CC: I had a scholarship to play at Winthrop University. I went up there and we were in the second day of preseason guy came in, I was a goalkeeper, guy came in, sliding in and hit my right under my shin guard and broke my leg in two places.
BB: Second day?
CC: The second day, and I was actually having a really good day and that pretty much ended that fall season. Then I went into the spring season, got healthy, was getting fit again and I broke my hand. So I was out again and the coach said you can come back, same scholarship money. I said no, I was going to transfer back down to Georgia State and try it down there. I went down there, second week of preseason, I broke the same bone, in the same hand and after that I just didn't have the desire ...
BB: Well, at some point it ends.
CC: I had a bit of an ego problem. I was a top athlete here (at South Gwinnett), a top athlete in Georgia, went to college, had these goals and aspirations to be a professional athlete because MLS, Major League Soccer, had just started in 1996. So we had our own league and that is where I wanted to go. Psychologically, I just couldn't find the will to fight to get back into it. But I am pleased, I am pleased I had to go down that road because I am here now.
BB: You took about five years off between your soccer career ending and getting into teaching, what did you do?
CC: Gosh, everything. Worked a couple of odd jobs. Not being college educated, I delivered food for a restaurant, I was a bar tender, I build truck bodies, I sold doors, wooden doors, for about six months. I remember my wife, we had just been married, my wife, a friend of hers said they needed a coach for their youth team. I said, I don't want to coach, but if they need help for a training session or two, I'll go out and do one. And I went out there and I'll never forget it, the guy said, 'Boys, come on in. Come on in.' Little U10 and they come in and he says, 'All right, I want to introduce your new coach.' I had no idea. I was kind of thrown off.
But I had the training session and I remember from that point on just seeing what the kids were doing and they were listening to me and they did it. They showed me what I taught them. I said this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. My wife said, 'That's fine, but you better find out a way to make money doing it.' I said, 'I'll be a teacher.' And we ended up moving back (from Washington State) and that's when I ended up attending Georgia State and was a full-time student for two and a-half years, had a baby in the middle of it. My wife was working. Once I graduated I couldn't find a job, so I was a sub at Shiloh High School I knew about soccer so I volunteered my time. Ended up getting a job there and the coach wanted to bring me in as a coach for the junior varsity.
There was about five years there where I was doing nothing. My dreams had been squashed.
BB: How did you get to Washington?
CC: I got fed up one day (from tending bar). I was actually born in Washington, my family is from Washington and I had a cousin up there who was building truck bodies. I was fed up with Georgia and I wanted to get away. It was a pretty low point in my life. I threw my dog and a bag of clothes in my car and pretty much drove across the country. Everything went forward from there.
BB: That's a neat story how you discovered coaching.
CC: Well, I knew since I was very young, being an athlete, playing soccer, that is what I wanted to do. Soccer. I just wanted to do something with soccer. I wanted to be a professional athlete and I think when that didn't go the way I wanted it to, I kind of gave up. I won't say I gave up on the sport, I played, but I didn't have the passion. But then, when they made me the coach. I remember going to work and I don't think I worked all day. I just planned and planned and researched. I should be helping customers and clients and making quotes and I wasn't. I was just focusing on soccer. I would go through an eight-hour day. I think I came to that realization where I needed to have something where I could have that flexibility to focus on being a good coach and being a better coach than maybe coaches I had in the past. I wanted to really develop soccer in this country as a whole. That is really my global goal, if you want to call it that, is I want to be able to coach young men and even young women, possibly, to be able to represent our country. To lift a World Cup trophy. That is the end-all. I think if I ever had anyone do that on my team I would retire. I can't do any more. I don't want to do any more.
BB: How much more is soccer embraced now than when you were playing here at South?
CC: It's slowly getting bigger. Obviously you have the big 3, football, basketball and baseball. That is the American tradition. Just by watching Major League Soccer, you can see the fan (bases) are getting bigger. We have so many immigrants that come from the south or across the pond, they are really building on this environment that we are in where soccer is becoming a culture. It's getting bigger and bigger and bigger. I think personally is that our community has embraced it.
BB: What's it like being back at your high school, what, 14 years later. Some of the same people?
CC: (laughs) Yeah, it's funny you say that. My senior language arts teacher is still here. A few math teachers, a few science teachers. Nobody in the administration that I can remember. That's a brand new stadium. Two of the buildings that I actually remember are still here, but the rest of the building is brand new and the number of kids that we have in such a small, small area. I grew up in Grayson and went to South. I had friends who lived all the way up near the Archer district that went to South. Nothing was out there. People in Grayson drove 30 minutes to go to South for school in the morning. I am actually back, my wife and I bought the house next door to my parents house, the house I grew up in here.
BB: Do your parents still live in that house?
CC: Oh yeah.
BB: So it's an "Everybody Loves Raymond" situation?
CC: (laughs) Oh, gosh. You don't know how many times I have heard that.BB: It's the first thing I thought of.
CC: Everybody says that. I say I am going to by the house next to my parents and they say, 'Have you ever seen the show?' 'Yeah, it's hilarious. I want to live my life like that.' No and it's not that bad. I actually did build a fence and our backyards are joined together. So it's like a little compound. I love it because they get to be a part of their lives.
BB: Plus you have the free babysitter next door.
CC: We definitely have the babysitting gig going on. Sometimes is a quick phone call.
BB: Just open the back door.
CC: It's nice. 'Go to Grandpa's.
BB: Well, I know you met your wife, Leah, in Washington. How did it happen?
CC: I met her in The Woods. She was the manager of a coffee shop up there and, as you know, a coffee shop is like every other door in Washington state. I was talking to one of the gals who was a barista there and Leah walked in and she had this little pig-tale things and she was cute as a button. I was a little bit interested in her and she wanted nothing to do with me. But the barista I was talking to was actually her roommate, so she invited me over to their house for like a game night. When I left Leah told her roommate, 'Don't ever bring him into our house.' So, OK. But I kept on running into her. This was a small town, Lynden, Wash., small little town. More churches per capita than any city in the country. I call it the Holy Land. I just kept on running into her and we just ended up getting together. I just fell in love with her instantly and after a month of dating I proposed and after three months we were married.
BB: Well, a coffee shop is a good setting for a Washington love story.
CC: Whenever we go up there, we go to The Woods and get some coffee. We always say, when people ask, 'We met in The Woods.'