Weems steps down as PRC soccer coach

Published 3:02 pm Friday, September 23, 2022

By Jillian Haskin

PRCHS student

Adorned by a series of string lights, soccer balls with “I’ll miss you” from 2002, a plethora of dusted trophies, caution signs, old soccer cleats, Billy Joel posters, and over 15 framed pictures of teams dressed in blue, white, and big smiles, Joe Weems’ classroom is the Blue Devils soccer hall of fame curated since 2001.

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“This was going to be something that was going to be all mine, and I could either make it or break it,” said Weems. “The more I knew, the less I knew, and it kept getting bigger.”

Known for his electric sideline personality and long-drawn bus speeches, Joe Weems’ blue windbreaker is well known by anyone associated with Blue Devils soccer. After 20 years, he stepped down from coaching last year.

When he first began coaching in 2001, he was well rounded in many sports, including varsity girls basketball, middle school boys baseball, and girls soccer to name just a few. By August of 2002 Weems catapulted into the world of soccer. Slashing his “well-rounded” coaching title, he was now the spearhead of the first soccer program for the Blue Devils.

From figuring out where to practice to the basic design of a soccer jersey, to say 2002 was chaotic is an understatement. What really set Weems’ coaching experience apart from others was the profound freedom of it all.

“There was no expectation because everything had to be created from nothing,” he said. “Everything was just from scratch, and we basically could make it anything we wanted to make, which was kinda unique within itself. It was just a chance to really grow in my position”.

PRC’s soccer program started with what was seemingly a small number of players, 35 in total, but consequently, 35 players is a larger challenge than it appeared. While today coaches can learn about the sport from Youtube, that was not the case in in 2001.

“I had no clue. Whenever I started we didn’t have Youtube as we do now so I actually had to go buy books, as many books as I could find,” he said.

Alongside books, conversations with parents on the sidelines made an impact. Once he learned the material and was familiar with its implementation, the Devils gained a force that made Pearl River County proud.

Though not linear, success occurred through early efforts in the program. With a record of 17-3 by 2005, the Lady Devils were on a definitive course. Eventually, they landed at South State but suffered a stormy loss against Gautier 5-0. Yet this loss was a defining victory for the new program, as it pushed past a “what-if” mindset for those to come. Though they progressed a bit slower, the boys team eventually won a district championship and progressed to the second round in the 2021-2022 season playoffs at West Jones, where it all came down to a close 1-0 game. Alongside the West Jones game breaking barriers for what was achievable for the Blue Devils, its distinction was that it was the last game Weems coached at PRC.

“ I just didn’t feel like it was fair if I couldn’t continue to be out there and not physically and mentally give everything that I was asking players to give….I don’t regret it because every day my body tells me that I made the right decision”, Weems said. “There never is a good time to leave.”

Though the PRCHS soccer team become a precious aspect of Weem’s identity, there was some damage in secret. Experiencing extensive physical problems for several years, Weems faced the challenge of whether he was at the end of the road for soccer. Considering his stature, the face kids looked to for their soccer career in high school, Weems, just like any other dedicated coach, was concerned about his player’s opinions.

“It was better for the kids. I know they didn’t see it and that was the scariest part, are they going to know why I’m leaving? Are they going to think I’m just quitting?” he said.

With two sons, 10 and 12, coaching took away some aspects of his life that he feels he should have dedicated to his children. Now is that time.

Now, when players and fans look to the sidelines, they will find a jolly, orange-haired man by the name of Cory Mikell with a coach’s clipboard.

Entering his 4th year of coaching, now a second-year coach at PRCHS, Mikell is filling the role as head coach. In the 2019-2020 season, his first year at PRC, he was an assistant coach under Weems, so he is familiar with the team.

Kickstarting his soccer career at the age of 5, and carrying it through high school, Mikell is assured in his ability to lead the Blue Devils. At the cusp of his twenties, pacing the team and being able to act as a mentor, he feels those are strong suits. To Mikell, keeping up with the athletic charisma of teenagers is a simplistic concept. When comparing himself to Weems, he said, “I would say the biggest thing between the two is I’ll bring more of a new style approach, as far as a new way of thinking on how to do things. I’m more adapted to the new style of soccer.”

Initially, Weems started coaching because he was inspired by the impact of his own previous coaches. Today, his purpose and gratitude extend beyond that and to the relationships that have cultivated over two decades. He possesses a knowledge that in 2001, was seemingly beyond him, and the beauty of the process is what makes Weems, Pearl River Central High School’s soccer hall of fame keeper.

His last remark stands in simplicity, yet resonates beyond just that of a coach.

“ I’m going to miss that process: taking a kid that was a mediocre athlete, that has a big heart and all their effort is involved and watching them grow. I’m talking about emotionally, mentally and physically. Watching that process of them being excited, seeing themselves get better, that’s a beautiful thing to watch.”

Weems will still be involved, but from now on as a spectator in the stands.