Tom Velek holds a soccer ball next to his National Coach of the Year trophy and other awards he has earned over years of coaching. Photo by: Lee Adams/Dispatch Staff
January 23, 2013 9:45:58 AM
Tom Velek remembers the letter well.
His oldest son, Avery, had decided to get involved in soccer after a few years away from the sport, so the decision was made to sign him up with the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority.
That's when the waiting began.
It wasn't until Velek received the letter that he discovered why he hadn't heard from his son's new coach. He didn't have one. The letter informed Velek and the other parents that the team their children were supposed to play on needed a coach.
"The gist of the letter was, 'Dear parent, your son or child doesn't have a coach and we're contacting you to see if you would be willing to coach the team,'" said Greg Lewis, program director at CLRA. "Tom came down and said, 'I guess I will give it a try.' He got some literature and every year he came back and his interest grew and the momentum grew."
Lewis looks back to that fateful letter nearly eight years ago and smiles. He admits there was some arm-twisting involved in getting Velek to coach, but knowing what he knows today, he would gladly do it again.
On Friday, Velek made history when he was named the 2012 US Youth Soccer Recreation Coach of the Year Award for Boys at the US Youth Soccer Awards Gala in Indianapolis. The event was held in conjunction with the 2013 US Youth Soccer Workshop at the NSCAA Convention in Indianapolis. Velek is the first coach from the state of Mississippi to win a national youth coaching award, and only the third coach from Region III, of which Mississippi is a member, to be recognized.
Last month, Velek, who is the director of the Gordy Honors College at Mississippi University for Women, was named Southeastern Region Coach of the Year.
"It is very humbling," Velek said. "There are a lot of people out there who coach and when I was standing in front of the crowd (waiting for the award to be announced) I was there with coaches from New Mexico, Virginia, and Kansas, all of whom had won a regional award. I would have been tickled pink to win a state coaching award (which he did). I was kind of flabbergasted when I won regionals.
"When they said my name, the Mississippi table went berserk. It was a very humbling moment. I never would have thought about a national title. I never would have thought about a state championship."
Velek has been instrumental in helping grow and teach others in and around Columbus about soccer. He is a member of the United States Soccer Federation and holds a USSF National Youth License, a USSF National D License, a USSF National E License, and NSCAA National, Regional, and State Goal Keeper Coaching Diplomas.
In addition, he works as a Mississippi Soccer Association coaching instructor, an Olympic Development Player evaluator, and is the vice president of Division II soccer for MSA.
In Columbus, Velek helped organize TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer), helped found and establish a Division II program, an Under-8 Development Program, and the Columbus United Soccer Club, is a coach of and is the director of competitive soccer and director of coaching for Columbus United.
Velek's teams also have had a lot of success. He has won two Northern District championships with a U-12 and a U-14 boys team, won two MSA Coaches Cup championships with a U-14 boys and a U-16 boys team, won a MSA Division III state championship with a U-14 boys team, and won a MSA Division II state championship with a U-14 boys team.
"We're proud of him," said Roger Short, executive director of CLRA. "Tom works hard and is very deserving of the award. He has done a great job with the CLRA soccer program."
Short and Lewis recall sending the letter that helped get Velek involved in coaching. He admits there might have been some arm-twisting in the whole process, and that Velek isn't the only individual who has been persuaded to volunteer. Short said Velek has stepped up and "taken the bull by the horns and run with it."
"This award is tremendous for the entire region because the region doesn't normally get this award," Lewis said. "This is truly humbling for the state of Mississippi and a lot of Southern states ... Once he started, the momentum kept going, and the momentum for Tom is not dying out."
Velek praised all of the great parents and players for getting involved. He also thanked CLRA for its support in helping to grow soccer in Columbus. Looking back to the day he received that letter, Velek never imagined that one request would lead him on the journey he is on. Velek said he is preparing to take his National C License, which is just another sign he isn't slowing down or finished giving back to the community.
It also means Velek isn't through doing a little arm-twisting to get other coaches involved.
"Sometimes I do a little speech or talk about my life BS (Before Soccer)," Velek said. "I can't remember what I did ... I am not sure what inspired me to coach Avery's team when he was seven years old. It was a fateful day indeed."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.