Sports

Coach Mike Corey remembered as he retired

LONGTIME SOCCER COACH Mike Corey died unexpectedly on Aug. 29 as a result of a fall.

Editor’s note: Michael Corey of Bristol died unexpectedly on Aug. 29 as a result of a fall. While he had a wife and children whom he loved, many people in the area knew and loved him as a soccer coach at Champlain Valley, Vergennes and then Mount Abraham union high schools, where he mentored two generations of young people. In recognition of his contributions to the sporting community, and the community at large, we reprint here a 2018 story we ran when Corey announced his retirement from coaching soccer.

BRISTOL — When former Mount Abraham Union High School boys’ soccer players talk about longtime coach Mike Corey they first look back on their days as kids at Corey’s annual summer camps.

Silas Doyle-Burr, a 2005 Mount Abe graduate who is now the owner of Monkton’s Last Resort Farm, remembers a theme from Corey’s Summit Soccer Camp that continued through his Eagle years — which ended in November 2017, when Corey stepped down after coaching at Mount Abe since 1988.

“Especially at an early age he wanted to emphasize having fun, and I think that’s what embodied his coaching style all the way through high school, too. He’s always been very relaxed,” Doyle-Burr said. “There was sort of a free flow to his coaching style, and that made me feel a lot more comfortable. I felt like the players on the team tended to pick things up a little quicker because they weren’t worried about making mistakes.”

Mount Abe girls’ soccer coach Dustin Corrigan, a 1998 graduate and now a former colleague as well as player, said Corey’s love of the game was infectious for the many from around the county who attended s Summit Soccer Camps. 

“He’s probably been the most significant person, in Addison County for sure, as far as the game as soccer goes,” Corrigan said. “The game would not be what it is in our community had Mike Corey not been here.”

Tim Lueders-Dumont, a 2008 graduate who is the Vermont State Treasurer’s office’s policy director, talked about the Summit Soccer Camp and his high school experience.

“I still remember the first time I was at his summer soccer camp, and then working all those years at the camp for him. He always made me feel like I was part of his family. And I know a lot of the guys on the team over the years felt that way,” Lueders-Dumont said. “He’d have like 30 guys over at his house, just crammed into his basement watching tape or watching the Premier League.”

Doyle-Burr also recalled good times at Mike Corey’s — and his wife Diane’s — Bristol home.

“She was also a fundamental component. I just remember all the team dinners,” Doyle-Burr said.

CHANGE OF COURSE 

But this fall Mike and Diane Corey have plans other than feeding teenagers and coaching soccer. 

The couple will instead head to Ireland and rent bicycles. They have always enjoyed traveling, Mike Corey said, and have always wanted to return to the Emerald Isle after a 1981 visit. 

“We’ve all got our little bucket list. It’s time to explore,” said Corey, 67. “I’ve had a hankering to get back and spend some considerable time in Ireland. My roots are there.”

But it was not an easy decision for Corey after another solid season: He has coached the Eagle boys’ varsity since 1995, leading the Eagles to titles in 2004 and 2013 and to home playoff games in all but five seasons. 

Weighing travel goals and the state of the program, Corey made the call. 

“I felt so good about the season as a whole, great group of kids, and a really nice group coming back,” Corey said. “I love doing this and I still have the fire and the energy and all of that. But I had to do it sooner or later, and looked at the grand scheme of things and thought about it for about a month, and decided it really was a good time.”    

Corey excelled for the Proctor High School and University of Vermont soccer teams before earning his UVM degree in 1973. A special educator, he went to graduate school and then began coaching in Hinesburg in 1978, where he taught for Champlain Valley Union and led a middle-school team and began an elementary school program.

In 1982, he moved to Vergennes and coached the Commodore JV boys for a year and then the VUHS girls until 1987, winning a D-II title in 1983. Corey took a job at Mount Abe in 1988, coaching the JV boys for a year and the varsity girls for six years. He took over the Eagle boys when Corrigan was a sophomore.

Corrigan went on to play for NCAA Division I Canisius, and he favorably compared Corey to other coaches, including professionals. 

“Mike knows the game as well as any of those guys,” Corrigan said. “And he also understands the developmental progression of the game right down from the time they’re in kindergarten right through when they’re ready to play at the college level.”

RELATIONSHIPS

But that’s not the most important part of the story, Corrigan said. 

“Mike does an excellent job building relationships with the players who played for him, and it goes way beyond the years that they played for him,” Corrigan said. “We still talk and we still have that connection. We sort have this bond through soccer, there’s this shared joy, but we have a personal connection. You know that Mike cares a lot for every player that has ever played for him, and that means a lot.”

Doyle-Burr said players could talk to Corey. 

“He was approachable as any coach I’ve ever had, and that’s a very important thing,” he said. “He really cares.”

Doyle-Burr said it was important to Corey that his players matured. During his senior year when a teammate encountered personal issues as the Eagles hit the postseason, Corey asked Doyle-Burr and his twin brother, Caleb, to talk with the player, and he ended up playing a crucial role in the Eagles’ title run. 

“Rather than combat that himself, he had my brother and I deal with it, and I think that was the best way to go,” Doyle-Burr said. “One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned as a leader is delegation, on the farm certainly, that’s something that’s very necessary. I can’t do everything myself. That lesson was partly something I learned from him.”

Their comments echoed what Corey said were his goals, especially as he learned on the job.  

“Early in your career you want to establish yourself as a successful coach, so winning becomes important,” Corey said. “About halfway through my career I started to shift, after I had been doing it for a while and had some success. Certainly after the ’04 state championship it was totally about the kids and their experience and what I could bring to my coaching that was not just the technical and tactical training.”

Corey said it became “more looking at the individuals on the team and making sure they were growing … and getting their priorities straight and understanding winning wasn’t everything and how to evaluate themselves, because in life winning and losing is not the best way to evaluate yourself as a person.”

Corey can look back on plenty of personal highlights, including coaching both of his sons, Devin and Keil, the latter of whom played on the 2004 title team, and seeing many players go on to play in college.

But ultimately he said the bonds forged mattered the most.  

“In general I would say the highlight of my coaching career is the relationships I was able to develop with the players and their families,” he said. 

STORYTELLING AND UNITY

Maybe Corey’s communication skills and love of talking helped develop those bonds, Corrigan said.  

“With Mike I seldom have a conversation that goes quickly. Somewhere along it strays into a story from Proctor High School way back. The storytelling I really enjoy, and it’s a really big part of who Mike is as a teacher and a coach. And it works. Those stories are powerful,” Corrigan said. “Anyone who has worked with Mike, either as a player or a coach working with him, it always pushes your thinking deeply about the game and how we approach it. His players learn to think the game that way and think like a coach.”

Doyle-Burr agreed time with Corey has a tendency to stretch out. 

“We were subject to millions of stories, and you obviously know Mike can talk forever,” he said. “But there was always some sort of moral lesson behind his stories. More than anything, he coached for people to be better, and to contribute to their communities.”

The other things Corey did to create bonds and love of the sport were to make the time his teams spent together enjoyable. 

“He had a way of making practices fun and making us do certain drills, but it never felt like busy work,” Doyle-Burr said. “At the same time we were very competitive, and you could tell he wanted to win. But there was minimal stress.”

Some of those practices were memorable, Corrigan said. 

 “He doesn’t have the greatest sense of time. He might in the middle of practice stop and be telling a Proctor story for an hour. And the practice will stretch on for three hours,” he said. “But you’ll remember that for years and years. And the storytelling is a big part of it, too, because through the storytelling you really get the passion and understand that these things we do in sport, they really have significance in our lives.”

Lueders-Dumont remembers the funny moments, and Corey being serious when it counted. 

“He did it with a lot of humor, but he could say, ‘Listen, Tim, you’ve got to shape up on this issue,’ and you listened to him,” he said. “He chose his spots.”

For Corey the most important part of his teams’ time together has been developing chemistry.

About eight years ago in the preseason he started having the Eagles create “team covenants” by picking four words out of a long list. They chose brotherhood as the first word the first year, and it has been first on the board ever since. 

“They’ve selected that word every year when we sit down and do this. The upperclassmen say, ‘Put brotherhood up there,’” Corey said. “Other words, a lot of words, have come and gone. But that’s a beautiful thing, and they feel it.”

Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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