What culminating gift do you give to the coach and manager who gave you everything? Team Avalanche chose this brick, now laid in the walkway at the College of William & Mary.
Chas and Sally Sumser
“Team on 3”
The College is where Chas and Sally met. Now, “Team on 3” is part of the pavement there. Visitors from around the world will perhaps walk across it and wonder what it means, but for nineteen young women and their families, it says it all.
Chas didn’t set out to leave a legacy, he just wanted to form a team. A cohesive group of girls who could benefit from the relationships they built together, just as the Vipers boys team had during the 10 years prior with Chas at the helm. But one coach keeping players together season after season is rare. Competitive soccer clubs increasingly favor the academy approach which offers fluid rosters for individualized player development.
To Chas, keeping the team together was key, so he sought out a club that would honor this approach and formed the Leesburg FC Avalanche.They became a tight-knit group, behind this dynamic Chas-Sally duo. Ten girls from the original travel team were on the roster in the final 2014 season. Of his two teams, first Vipers, then Avalanche, Chas says, “It was once in a lifetime – twice.”
But lightning doesn’t strike twice, by accident.
Anna Fiorellino, one of the Avalanche team captains who now attends Virginia Tech, says she stayed with the Avalanche because of coach Chas. “He didn’t care about winning or losing, only that we had fun and learned something from each game.”
“Coach Chas let us develop as people not only as athletes. He consulted with us as a team before we added new players and asked our opinions on what would be the best way to improve how we played. He cared not only about the players’ personal lives, but about all our families as well. He really brought us together and made the team its own little family.”
Debbie Schwind, who acted as “social coordinator” for the 12 seasons her daughter Allyson played on the team, said they epitomized what “TEAM” meant. She calls Coach Chas a “master team builder.”
Beyond the soccer field, Chas and Sally created many traditions over the years, according to Anna’s Mom, Michelle. Christmas dinners, summer pick up games, trivia games, Thanksgiving “reunion” games (Vipers vs Avalanche), throw-back Avalanche day (players would wear the ‘oldest’ Avalanche attire they owned). They devoted a good part of their lives to enriching the lives of their players. Well not only their players, but they enriched the lives of their players’ families as well.
Team on 3 was the team cheer, Sally tells me. The team used a simple cheer whenever they “broke the huddle.” It was Team on 3, Team on 3, 1-2-3 Team.Chas has a license plate that reads TEAMON3.
Even the cheer they used to bond the group. For their final tournament Chas and Sally got ‘TEAMON3’ t-shirts printed. At the final home game, one of the moms got there early to spell out ‘TEAM on 3’ in the fence. The current Avalanche was joined by former players for a kind of a mini-homecoming.
They aren’t hoisting State Cup trophies, though they had their share of success in local tournaments. Chas hopes what they take with them will be a bit more lasting.
There’s clearly a deep connection here: team to coach and coach to team. But over 17 seasons it’s hard to come up with new ideas for coach’s gifts. The last one was called “Where in the World is an Avalanche?” with snapshots of the girls and their families wearing Avalanche gear all over the world to show Coach Chas and Sally that they mean the world to us.
“William and Mary is where it all began (Sally and Chas met there) and they have helped lay a foundation for our girls, so the brick at their alma mater was really the perfect thing,” says Schwind. “Allyson knows that it is not always about the technique but it is mostly about the heart. I would like to think that she is a different person because Chas and Sally were in her life.”
It’s been quite a journey: a gaggle of ramshackle 4th graders hand-crafted into a tight-knit family. No one likes a long goodbye. “Team on 3” was their way of saying so long for now.
Chas and Sally’s way was to rent a limo for the team’s final hurrah, the long trip to an away game. They even had special jerseys made which were waiting on each seat to greet the girls as they boarded the limo. Chas hoped to make it a farewell game to remember. Always the coach, he remembers they didn’t play well. Apparently, they had so much fun with the drive and the limo, they didn’t have much soccer left in them by game time. Fun and team bonding was worth the price.
Ironically, Chas and Sally were never paid as coach and manager of the Vipers or the Avalanche, nor were they reimbursed or compensated for expenses. “It wasn’t a hardship and we enjoyed it,” Sally says. It didn’t even occur to them to handle it any other way.
I suspect they feel satisfactorily reimbursed by the relationships that continue to be forged between them and the players they mentored over all these seasons. While other coaches may boast State Cup championships or players in the national team pool, Chas and Sally are busy celebrating the 80+ lives they have changed. These young people are not their trophies, just children, who’ve given them fond memories, too many to count.
I am particularly indebted to Chas for taking the time to share stories about this team, what they meant to him and what he will take away from the experience. During our conversation I mentioned hearing about college basketball coach Dean Smith’s passing and how he had arranged to pay each of his former players $200 so they could go out to dinner on the coach. Chas smiled and nodded, having also read the news.
“I told Sally we are so doing that.”