A tale of two coaches

In my final report of the new head coach hires at West Feliciana High School, we’re taking a look at both girls and boys soccer. The new head coach for girls soccer is Hatem Bachar, and the new head coach for boys soccer is Dayne Denham.

They have similar jobs and a passion for soccer, but that is where their similarities end.

Denham is the definition of a hometown boy. He grew up in St. Francisville, attending local schools from kindergarten until graduation. He graduated from LSU with a degree in math and came back to West Feliciana High School to teach before landing in his new role as head coach of the boys soccer team.

Coach Denham’s life has revolved around soccer.

“I’ve been playing since I was 4 years old. One day, my mom just said, ‘Hey let’s go for a ride,’ and the next thing I know I’m at a sports park playing soccer,” he said. He said from that day forward, he and his brother would get home from school, hop in the car and go play soccer at the park.

West Feliciana High School is the first place Denham has ever coached. He spent three years as an assistant coach, and in his fourth year he is taking over from Dennis Dyer as head coach. We spoke a little bit about the former head coach's legacy. Denham said the team is a great group of guys who stick together and love the game, and that’s all because of Dyer.

Denham has already implemented some new changes for his team. This summer, the boys are working out with the football team on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the team is also practicing for a short time after those workouts. He also has plans for some fundamental changes when things kick back into high gear. Denham wants his kids to know their role better when they’re on the field in a certain position so they can play the game accordingly.

He said his “ultimate goal is to keep the team together and improve every day.” He said he’s not guaranteeing a state title.

“We play in a very tough district,” he said, “I believe we have three of the top 10 teams in our district.”

His goal there is simply to compete at the highest level with those teams.

Bachar, the new girls soccer coach, is originally from Tunisia, where he was an Olympic athlete in the decathlon. He came to the United States to do a doctoral study in Kansas. Following that, he moved to Louisiana, and was the men’s sprint coach for LSU track and field from 1997 to 2004. Also being a professor, he taught various subjects at LSU, including foreign languages and anatomy. After his stint at LSU, Bachar began to coach soccer.

Bachar said he started coaching soccer for his children, but the love only grew from there.

“I noticed that people were paying too much to play soccer,” he said.

He said he found that ridiculous because in Tunisia kids didn’t have to pay to play the game. When you wanted to play soccer, you’d go out with your friends and just go play somewhere. This is why he started his own club called the Olympians. He began coaching kids of virtually all ages with the goal in mind to get them all on high school squads. He has yet to fail in that goal, and he has been with some of his kids for about 15 years.

Bachar said he is excited to take over the girls soccer program. He has a very young team that he is ecstatic to work with, but he described it as a “surprise box.” Bachar doesn’t yet know what he has on this team, but he is more than eager to find out.

Since the team is so young, I asked him what expectations, if any at all, he had for the team this upcoming year.

“Most problems come with high expectations,” he said.

He said winning is great, but it is far from the most important thing to him.

“School and being a teenager is already stressful enough, so I don’t want soccer to be another source of stress for them," he said. "I want them to be kids again and have fun playing the game, because you can achieve anything when you’re actually having fun.” He made it clear that his only real expectation is that his team improves from every game.

Bachar said soccer is constantly evolving, and he plans to evolve with it.

“These days, soccer is 80% physical and 20% skill. The modern soccer player is an athlete first,” he said. His plan is to focus first on speed and constant movement. He said the team can work on the fundamentals, but the most important thing now is speed on the field.

Bachar’s ultimate goal as the new head coach is simply to bring more attention and importance to the game of soccer in West Feliciana Parish. He says he wants the love for soccer to be a permanent staple in St. Francisville.

If you’re trying to get your kid involved in soccer, Denham has a soccer camp coming up on July 15-16, and July 18, and he wants as many kids as possible to sign up and come out. His goal with the camp is obviously to foster the same love he has for the game inside the younger children of the area. The camp is for boys and girls up to 14 years old.

Parents can register their children for the camp by emailing Denham at denhamd@wfpbs.org, and payment is due on the first day of camp by either cash or check.

Joel Robinson covers sports for The Democrat and The Watchman. To share tips about area sports news, email xtra@theadvocate.com