Discipline jockey High schools: Boys soccer coach Bill Stara has the best of both worlds at River Hill, riding herd on players and antsy parents but also winning.

November 05, 1997|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

His wife, Arden, calls him the most-principled person she knows.

His players and former players show him an awe-inspired respect that is rare.

Principles and respect are what make River Hill boys soccer coach Bill Stara a larger-than-life figure -- not the seven state soccer titles, the most by any active coach; not the 223 victories; not the national boys soccer Coach of the Year award he received last spring.

His No. 1-ranked, second-year River Hill Hawks play for the regional Class 2A championship game tonight. It would be a Stara-coached team's seventh consecutive regional title.

But for Stara, 40, coaching is now more about respect and doing things the right way than about winning.

Last season's Sun All-Metro Player of the Year, Matt Stephenson played three seasons for Stara at Centennial and one against him after the coach moved to River Hill a year ago. He discussed what Stara's players think about him.

"I've been coached by a lot of guys from the regional to the national level," Stephenson said. "And I respect him more than all of them combined. I learned more from him."

Stara said: "In today's society, if your kid has one person to look up to, isn't that special? I tell parents I'll look after their kids every day. Each kid brings me an assignment book signed by every teacher on Fridays, and I expect no bad comments or they won't play.

"Getting kids to do self-evaluation is more important than wins. I don't do everything right, but the players respect me for what I'm doing and for what I know. Our kids will live and die for the program."

Stara holds his players responsible for obeying rules on and off the field. He also holds opposing coaches responsible for obeying rules, which has angered some. When he learned that a county coach had broken a rule against coaching too many of his players on the same club team, he and Oakland Mills coach Don Shea turned the offender in.

"We got blamed for it. They should have turned themselves in," Stara said. "A lot of people have been angry at me for some reason. Usually they are wanna-bes who want to take shortcuts. And I have a problem with that.

"You have to pay your dues. It took years to build Centennial's program. People don't realize how much time it takes to grow young players. Everyone thinks I had all the travel kids [players from top-notch club teams] at Centennial. A lot weren't. But we spent countless hours training them. After a two-hour practice, I would spend another hour just coaching the goalkeeper," said Stara, a Pittsburgh native who was an All-America goalkeeper at Behrind College, an NAIA school in Erie, Pa. "We practice every Saturday to get things done. How many coaches want to wake up early every Saturday morning to coach?"

People at other schools criticized him for his move to River Hill because it's a magnet school. They said it was just a chance for him to recruit the best players under the guise of educational opportunity.

He denies recruiting. "Honestly, I don't know who is tech magnet and who isn't when they walk in. I'm by no means a choirboy. But I know the rules. I may challenge them, but I don't break them."

Some River Hill parents complained when their in-district boys were cut this fall, saying that too many players lived out of district. "I cut older ones and kept some better younger ones. I did the same thing at Centennial," Stara said.

Stara's principles extend even to which teams he schedules. For several seasons at Centennial, Stara scheduled private school soccer power Calvert Hall.

"One year, one of their people stole our soccer net after they lost, and they wouldn't return it, so we just stopped playing them," Stara said. "I'm waiting for my net back and an apology."

Theft and vandalism are things that rarely occur in the soccer room or in Stara's earth science classroom. He's known to offer incentives such as sweat suits for the names of thieves or vandals.

"You don't play games with him. He puts out a bounty on kids who steal," said his wife.

Stara said: "Kids appreciate old-fashioned values. But sometimes they are troubling to them. Hopefully, I've polished it so that I'm not prehistoric."

He also holds parents responsible. He's been known to tone down his team's fans by promising to identify the hecklers and to bench those parents' sons.

"No matter who is at the top, somebody is trying to knock him down," recently retired Centennial athletic director Jim Welsch said. "I'd want him to coach my kid or for me anytime. He's very professional. Very responsible. A disciplinarian. A good motivator. Knowing the game is one thing, but he knows how to get the most out of kids."

Large, framed pictures of the state championship teams and two national championship club teams he coached hang on his club basement walls.

He's had a chance to move on. But he didn't want to be a vagabond.

He has a 9-year-old son, Matthew, whom he hopes to coach at River Hill someday.

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