By Michael BRUER
St. Francis varsity soccer coach Glen Appels has been molding soccer players in La Cañada since 1989. He won his 400th game on Jan. 15, beating Crespi 2-1 for the Golden Knights’ first Mission League victory of the season. In addition to being the head coach, he teaches junior and senior AP English. Appels sat down recently with CV Weekly’s Michael Bruer for an interview.
Q: With eight games left in the season, how would you evaluate your team’s performance this year?
A: We’ve played good soccer without getting great results. On one level we’re excited about the level of play we’ve shown. On the other side, we’ve had moments that have let us down that have kept us from being successful record-wise. We’re hoping with five out of the eight [games at] home games, that the results will start to come. We’re hopeful.
Q: Over the course of your tenure, you’ve seen many playing styles, personalities, strengths and weaknesses. What most accurately describes a St. Francis soccer team?
A: Ideally, guys that put the team first. That’s the number one thing. Attitude to me is such a crucial part of life, and such a crucial part of the program. If a guy comes with the right approach, everything else is secondary. We can deal with everything else if the guy comes with the right attitude and work ethic. I would like to think that our ideal player is a guy who is out there trying to accomplish something for his teammates and his school rather than just for himself.
Q: What are some of your favorite memories in your 25-year history with St. Francis?
A: I think if you look at the soccer side of things – the regional championship in 2009, it was a game when we were playing a really good team from San Diego, Cathedral Catholic. We scored four first half goals; it was just one of those days where everything went the right way. We got a chance to play all of our players in a regional championship game. It was only the second or third game in the regional championships. We had a great crowd, 500 kids out there cheering for the team. It was one of those days when you hope things go well, and don’t realistically expect them to.
In 1996, our first CIF championship. That was the team that had Pete Vagenas on it. I was new, a young guy. I never started coaching with the idea of winning championships; I just loved the sport and loved working with kids. I thought this was the right place to be in my life – those things are just huge bonuses. The biggest memories for me really aren’t the victories, you know, it’s these great guys I know. I have hundreds of kids I still get emails and updates from – new kids, new jobs – some of these guys played for me 20 years ago, when I was a young coach. Those connections have been the most special part of being a coach.
The other thing is the guys I’ve coached with: we’ve had over a dozen guys come back to coach who were once players. As a young guy, I wasn’t projecting in the future, I just found a place I liked, and kind of went about it naively.
Q: What is it about the school that draws you to it? What keeps you coming back year after year to coach?
A: Well I think the values of the school [draw me to it.] I was extremely lucky – this was my first job out of graduate school. When I finished at Cal, I went to UCLA graduate school. I saw the advertisement for St. Francis, and [Principal] Moran watched me student teach. I spent a day on campus, and I talked to kids and they loved the school.
And for me, a public school guy, to hear kids not only who loved the school that they’re going to – their teachers, administration – but they were willing to tell a stranger they really liked it. The kids at my high school – if you really liked it, you didn’t say anything. That really attracted me to the school. I think its shared values: our program shares the values that the school holds. To have people that I respect, administrators and co-workers, value the same thing that I do – it just made it a good fit.
Q: What’s been your biggest challenge as the head coach?
A: I think in general the hardest thing in high school is that you have a limited amount of time with your team. The kids have a lot of outside interests; they have club soccer and other interests. Obviously keeping the academics up is a priority for us. I think trying to find these guys and get them together on the same page, in a short amount of time, is always a challenge.
Every year you have half a dozen to 10 guys leaving and a fresh crew coming in – that’s the hardest element on the coaching side of it. I think the [greatest] difficulty coaches have is with kids’ expectations. I think it’s part of today’s culture, kids who look at themselves first instead of the team. That’s been the biggest challenge and the biggest continuing challenge, because we have more and more kids who come with the idea that ‘I’m going to this school, and this is what I’m going to get out of it.’
What I would like, and what I look for and what I think most of our kids still have, is a desire to be a part of something. I want to contribute to something. That’s a real clash with our culture, where records and individual accomplishments are really important. We try to balance that, but it’s not an easy thing to do. With our success, there are some expectations that have come along with it – with winning games.
When the kids aren’t as successful as they want to be, it’s difficult on everybody.
Read part II of Michael Bruer’s interview with coach Glen Appels in the Feb. 6 issue of CV Weekly.