Prep Soccer

CPU soccer coaches retire without final hurrah

HS journalism: Rich Plante, Todd Mitchell started the program in 2005-06

Center Point-Urbana coaches Rich Plante (left) and Todd Mitchell encourage the team during halftime in the Class 1A cham
Center Point-Urbana coaches Rich Plante (left) and Todd Mitchell encourage the team during halftime in the Class 1A championship game against Davenport Assumption at the 2017 girls’ state soccer tournament at the Cownie Soccer Park in Des Moines. The two recently retired from coaching. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CENTER POINT — When COVID-19 canceled all high school spring sports, Rich Plante and Todd Mitchell were forced to retire on a “what could have been” season.

Not an ideal circumstance, to say the least.

But from all the years they’ve spent coaching, one of the biggest byproducts has been just how good they’ve gotten at staying true to their priorities.

And it’s crazy good.

“We have certain priorities we have always taught at the beginning of each season,” said Plante, who, along with Mitchell, was a co-head coach of the girls’ soccer team at Center Point-Urbana.

“They are God, family, school and soccer. The first three always take priority over soccer.”

That pecking order held true in their communication with players even after the high school soccer season was called off.

“... in the long run, you guys (this year’s CPU team) are going to be stronger, you’re going to be more emotionally secure, you’re going to be more mature in general because you’ve weathered this storm,” Mitchell said. “And how you weather that storm now will define your character in the future.

“From what I’ve seen in this class of girls as it applies to CPU soccer girls, they are handling it like ladies, they’re handling it like grown-ups. As much as everyone wanted to commiserate that Friday and shed some tears (coaches included), it’s been very impressive to see you guys bounce back and just make the best of it. This is preparing you for something else, we just don’t know what it is yet. When we say, ‘God, family, school, soccer’ we mean that, that God, family and school comes before that.

“It’s just soccer. I hate to say that, because soccer is a big deal.”

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Mitchell and Plante had been coaching the CPU’s girls’ program since its inception in 2005-06.

However, their soccer journey started long before that.

“I played soccer since I was 10 years old up into my 40s, and also officiated the past 20 years,” Plante said. “When my oldest daughter, Lauren, started playing at age 5, the YMCA was asking for parent coaches and soccer was still a new sport to many parents, so I joined up then and coached both my daughters from age 5 until they went to play college ball.”

Mitchell said he, too, started when his oldest daughter, Kaitlin, “showed interest in soccer at the age of 5.” He volunteered to coach her CPU youth team, and continued coaching each of his daughters all the way through their club soccer days spent at Heartland Soccer Club.

“Our family was immersed in soccer for many years,” he said. “In 2003, Rich and I joined a group of parents that were interested in starting a soccer program at CPU. It took us nearly three years, and Kaitlin’s class in 2006 was the first freshman class to start off the CPU program. Rich and I had volunteered to be the first coaches for the program.”

What started as volunteering to simply herd small children in the right direction, turned into 15 years of historic, impactful moments for these coaches and the CPU soccer community.

“We both had a common passion for coaching, working with and mentoring young people in general, and a heart for soccer,” Mitchell said. “It proved to be a good fit as our personalities and coaching styles very much complemented each other.

“We were unconventional in many ways compared to other high school programs, in that the bulk of our experience came from club coaching. We like to think it worked out pretty well. Although, I don’t think either of us ever planned to still be at it 15 years later. God had different plans.”

After mentoring nearly 350 girls in soccer and life — and compiling a record of 190-67-1 with seven state tournament appearances and eight Wamac Conference titles — these two men have left their mark without question.

But nonetheless, their past accolades did little to cushion the loss of their final season.

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“In reality, to me, it was really a full season or nothing, but that’s just me,” Plante said. “I envisioned that if the season happened, that it was going to be our final year, a fun year, and a year to celebrate.

“I’m sure there would have been ups and downs, but then when we all got the call, there was just this emptiness.”

Without a final tour of games to commiserate their time on the sideline, there has been more time then they’d like to reflect on what they did, why they did it and what they’ve discovered to be the key to success.

“We consistently focused on some pretty fundamental principles,” Mitchell said. “I’ve said this before but we focused on building a sisterhood, a group that would work until they dropped, not for the win, but for their teammates.

“When you have a team that respects each other, works hard for each other, complements each other, and just doesn’t want to let their sisters down, the wins start to take care of themselves. Don’t get me wrong, Rich and I are super competitive and the girls never wondered how much we hated to lose. But getting the win was never the focus, it was an outcome.”

It’s the relationships with the athletes that kept these two in the game so long — and consequently, is the thing they will miss most.

“Watching the players who are very gifted players get even better and watching the players who lack confidence/experience grow as a player, a leader and as a teammate,” Plante said. “I think most of all watching our teams of every year come together and watch out for each other. It’s a special feeling at the end of every season thinking about how the team relationships began and how strong they were at the end.”

The two retirees are looking forward to the next stage of life, in which they will be able to give to their families just a little more than before.

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“I’m looking forward to spending more time with my wife (Laurie) so she’s not a soccer widow during the soccer season,” Plante said. “Looking forward to getting away to travel with her, and spend more time with family in Texas.”

Mitchell too, said his free time will be spent with “my wife, my kids and my growing family of grandkids.

“We’ve got some great vacation ideas and there is always lots of outside work that has been left untended to in those spring months. While I’ll always cherish the 25 years of coaching and participating as a parent with CPU soccer, I am looking forward to the free time.”

Plante and wife Laurie have four children. Mitchell and wife Carolyn have three daughters, and five grandchildren.

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