End of an era: DeForest to retire

MANCHESTER - One of Burr and Burton Academy's longest tenured teachers and coaches will be calling it quits at the end of this school year, but as the saying goes "All good things must come to an end."

After nearly four decades as a teacher and coach - all of them spent at BBA - Dan DeForest will retire.

"I'm going to be 62 in February and so it was just time," said DeForest of his decision. "I've been at Burr and Burton, this is my 36th year and I just thought it was a good time to consider stepping away from the classroom and do some traveling while my wife and I are healthy and young enough to do that. We both would like to get a little trailer and tour the country a little bit. So, we just thought that this might be an opportunity and a good time to consider doing that."

DeForest said because the time commitment to coaching is so demanding, he felt that if he was going to retire from teaching it was also a good time to leave coaching as well.

"[They're] certainly some awfully big shoes to fill when it comes to the coaching position and teaching," said BBA Athletic Director Kathi Bierwirth. "He's coached so many tremendous athletes over the years and his teams have always had the best sportsmanship on and off the field. His record speaks for itself, wins [and] losses, but there's so many other things that he [has] given over the years that you don't always hear about or see."

In August, DeForest said he gathered the team and let them know that this would be his last year so that they could move forward and focus on the season.

Earlier this week, DeForest made the decision to once again coach the varsity softball team - a sport he has coached at one level or another nearly his entire tenure at the school.

"It's going to be a busy spring time, I know that, with stepping away from school," said DeForest. "But that's always been a passion of mine - softball - and so I just didn't think I wanted to finish my career without finishing coaching the softball team."

In his first year at the school, DeForest volunteered as a member of the coaching staff. After spending three years of coaching softball at the junior varsity level, DeForest was asked by coach Dave Blake to take over for him at the varsity level.

"I was thrilled at the opportunity and he was focusing on his basketball coaching at that time," said DeForest.

While he has served as the girls varsity soccer coach for the past 27 seasons, DeForest has been coaching soccer at BBA for his entire 36 year career.

"Ed Latz was the one who got me involved in soccer. He was the boys coach and he came to me one day and said 'You are going to coach the JVs' and when Ed said you were going to do something you did it," said DeForest. "So, he was really my first mentor in soccer because he taught me the game. I was fortunate to have him lead me through those first few years when I was learning the game."

Although Latz may have been his first mentor, DeForest said the success that the team has had over the course of the years would not have been possible without his long-time assistant coach Bruce Kern who Bierwirth said also will not return to coach the team next year.

"Bruce has been a rock for me as a person and certainly as a coach, I'd say co-coach, for the years we've been together," said DeForest. "He's been a tremendous asset to this program and to me personally as my coach and mentor and so the on field success that we've had could not have happened without his input for sure."

This year, the Bulldogs were eventually knocked out of the playoffs in the quarterfinals when they were on the road against U-32. One of the things DeForest said he was grateful for was that the loss came on the road because it provided him with the opportunity to talk with each one of the players individually on the bus ride home.

The loss came on the same day that BBA was holding its annual Halloween dance, something that DeForest said some of the players were hoping to make it back in time for.

On Tuesday, DeForest laughed as he recounted the experience of the bus ride as girls went from being upset about the loss to turning bus into an impromptu dressing room while getting ready for the dance.

"I heard kids in the back of the bus talking and they said 'This is the best bus ride ever' and here we had just lost and for me it was the end of my coaching the soccer team and so I felt great that they could just put it to that point and just say 'This is the best bus ride we've ever had as a team,'" said DeForest.

Throughout the course of his coaching career, DeForest said he never looked at his role in that position as anything more than extension of his role as a teacher - wanting his player to learn things that they would carry with them throughout their lives once they stepped off the pitch for the final time.

"Hopefully you model some of things you would love to see your players take with [them] beyond the playing fields and I feel good about that," said DeForest. "If you ask [me] what our record was I'd have to really think hard about that. I'm never quite sure, but I do know that there were lots of things that went on that were positive accomplishments in every season."

DeForest said he talked to his players about the benefits of playing a team sport; things like commitment, team work, dedication, sharing the good feelings with each other as well as the bad, having each other to lean on and learning how to be a friend and teammate.

Although his career as a soccer coach is over, DeForest said the reality of the situation probably will not fully hit him until next August - a time when he would normally be sending out a letter to incoming freshman to see if they wanted to try out for the team.

In his 37 years of coaching soccer, DeForest compiled a 278-107-15 record, won four state championships and received numerous coaching awards and accolades.

In 2000, DeForest not only won his third consecutive state championship, he also received the National Coach of the Year award for the National Federation Coaches Association.

During the time period when his teams won two of those three consecutive titles, the three teams put together a string of 37 consecutive wins, which included a perfect 17-0 season en route to one of the state championships.

DeForest has also received the Marble Valley League Coach of the Year Award 10 times, Vermont Large School Coach of the Year Award in 1999, 2002, and 2009, the Vermont Private Parochial School Coach of the Year Award in 2009 and the Twin State Coach of the Year Award in 2000 and 2003. He has also won eight League Championships and three Lady Patriot Classics in 2008, 2009 and 2012.

At the end of the day though, DeForest said that it was not the state championships he won over the years or his personal accolades that he was most proud of. Instead, he said his biggest accomplishment as a coach was about something else entirely.

"It's getting everyone to get on the same page and work toward a common goal. It's cliché to say that it's the journey and not the destination [but] it is the journey," said DeForest. "That's what this has been. It has been this fantastic journey for me personally."

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