By Paula Detwiller Special to The Pineapple To outsiders, the Delray Beach Athletic Club (DBAC) may sound like an exclusive gym or a “members only” fitness center. In fact, it’s a nonprofit organization that’s been changing young lives in Delray Beach since 1978. The Club is made up of two popular youth sports programs: AC Delray Soccer and Delray Beach Riptide Lacrosse. In the two programs combined, about 1,200 local kids, from 4-year-olds to high schoolers, participate in either recreational or competitive play. And here’s the best part: they are taught by two of the most accomplished coaches you’re going to find in South Florida. British import inspires soccer greatness Steve Burgess is DBAC’s Director (head coach) of Soccer. In addition to his duties at DBAC, Burgess is head coach of Girls Varsity Soccer at American Heritage High School in Delray Beach. In January, he was awarded the highest honor any U.S. high school soccer coach can receive: the National Coach of the Year award from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA). It’s easy to see why he qualified for the honor: under Burgess’ direction, the American Heritage team has made nine consecutive State Finals appearances—a Florida record—and has won the title five times. Raised on the outskirts of Wimbledon in Southwest London, Burgess played soccer (known as “football” in the U.K.) for his high school team and for various local and countywide clubs. Coaching became Burgess’ passion in his 20s, and by age 30 he had relocated to South Florida with his American-born wife. His first coaching job in the U.S. was with the Renegades Soccer Club of Coral Springs, Florida, where he worked for 12 years before joining the Delray Beach Athletic Club staff in 2010. He has served as a NSCAA State Technical Coordinator since 2005, organizing and teaching coaching courses at the state, regional and national levels. “I’m fortunate to have reached a certain level where a lot of the college coaches nationwide know me and trust me,” says Burgess, now 45. Over the past 10 years, he’s been invited to work at numerous college preparation and recruitment camps at schools such as Florida State University, the University of Miami, and St. Leo University north of Tampa. These connections have helped him guide both high school and Club players toward successful collegiate soccer experiences, including scholarships in some cases. Lacrosse professional shares his love of the game Kevin Finneran is DBAC’s Director (head coach) of Lacrosse, a game that’s not as well known as soccer but every bit as challenging. Finneran is a true lacrosse veteran, having played the game at the youth, high school, college, and professional level. He was a First Team All-American at Ohio Wesleyan University in 1989. Incredibly, he went on to play 13 consecutive years of professional lacrosse without missing a single game. In 1994, ’96 and ’98, Finneran was All-Pro with the Philadelphia Wings (professional indoor lacrosse). That led to the “crown jewel” of his career: being selected to play for Team USA in the sport’s World Championship tournament in 1998. The outcome? Team USA beat Canada in double overtime. Early in his professional career, Finneran started a training company called “Coach Finn Lacrosse,” offering lacrosse camps and clinic for kids. “It afforded me the opportunity to travel around the world and do clinics,” says Finneran. “I’ve been to Australia to do lacrosse clinics, Japan, the Czech Republic, and all over Europe.” Four year ago, he decided to move to South Florida to “grow the game down here.” He volunteered as a DBAC lacrosse coach to get his foot in the door, and was ultimately made Director of Lacrosse last year. Now 47, Coach Finn has a platform for spreading his love of lacrosse to kids of all ages. “You put a stick on their hand, and they get it,” he says. “Obviously I’m partial to the game, but it’s a very exciting sport and we offer a lot of different opportunities for kids to play.” An equal-opportunity sports club As a nonprofit organization, the DBAC is supported entirely by player registration fees and private donations. The club raises funds throughout the year to pay for scholarships (reduced registration fees) so that no player is turned away due to financial hardship. DBAC is kicking off its 35th anniversary year with “Vino Las Vegas,” a wine tasting/casino night fundraiser at the vintage gymnasium inside the Delray Beach Center for the Arts at Old School Square on Friday, February 22 from 7 to 10:30 p.m. “This is going to be a fun night, complete with a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament,” says DBAC volunteer Candace Rojas. “We hope the Delray business community will come out and support our efforts to let all interested local kids learn and grow from our terrific soccer and lacrosse coaches.” To help sponsor Vino Las Vegas, donate an auction item, or purchase tickets, visit www.delrayac.com. Look for DBAC on Facebook and follow the club on Twitter.
Paula Detwiller writes professionally for a variety of local clients. Her website/blog can be found at www.pdwrites.com.