Late last month—Saturday October 21st, to be exact—Shepherd University had its yearly homecoming celebration, complete with the big game, and all of the pomp and circumstance that adorns such festivity. The crisp autumn weekend served as a fitting backdrop for each of many worthy events facilitated by the annual tradition. One such event, however, wasn’t announced during halftime of the football game, or even advertised at all on dormitory message boards and lobby walls across campus—though such a lack of advertisement certainly didn’t affect the distinction and integrity of the occasion. After all, the event was relatively private, regardless of the fact that it was being held to honor one of Shepherd’s true pioneers—an icon whose efforts paved the way for hundreds of student-athletes both during and well after his tenure. The honoree: Mike Doran. The program: Shepherd Soccer.
Doran came to Shepherd College in 1989, from Purcellville, VA, at which point he took charge of a fledgling group of young men who had visions of soccer greatness, but very little direction, and even less support from the school. He was hired on by then-athletic director, Mike Jacobs—the two became fast friends, and developed a bond that remains strong today. Jacobs had a soft spot for the ambitious group of would-be athletes, and knew that if they could get the proper guidance, and even a little funding, well, who could say what might happen? Through a network of local contacts, Doran entered the picture. As they say, life is often dictated by timing, and Doran’s arrival to Shepherd couldn’t have come at a better time.
His track record spoke for itself—a stellar coaching career with youth soccer, extending over two decades, in both England and Virginia, where he held national coaching licenses for both countries. Impossible to overlook, as well, was his playing career, which drew upon nearly twenty-five years of action in Ireland (his homeland), England, the Middle East, and the U.S. He played on three national championship teams in 1969, 1970, and 1971, in addition to being an All-London selection from 1969—1973, and a member of the Great Britain All-Star team in 1972. But more than all of that, he was simply the right man for the job, and Jacobs could tell a perfect fit when he saw one.
Not that those early years didn’t come with their fair share of lumps, as Doran would later refer to them. He’d inherited a somewhat haphazard club program that would still have to fund itself for the first couple of years—and though his vision for the future was strong, he understood that such aspirations certainly took time. So he did what any rational coach would do: he tried to pack the schedule with as many of the toughest teams he could find—which wasn’t difficult, seeing as how the NAIA (Shepherd’s affiliation at the time) was chock-full of talented soccer programs throughout West Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic region. His philosophy was simple: “We might lose, but we’ll be better for it.” And he was right. Each year, the losses were a little less lopsided, and the win column even began to show signs of life. In short order (by 1993), he was able to establish a core group of players, through steadfast leadership and creative recruiting, who now just barely lost to, or even tied, the teams that had previously amassed as many as twelve goals on the Rams (in a single game). By 1996, the Shepherd College Men’s Soccer team was atop the WVIAC. Along the way, the journey vibrated within the wake of great battles, heart-stopping highlights, and gritty rights of passage, as well as the echoes of Doran’s unforgettable nomenclature and well-timed allegory—these two attributes chief among a litany of distinguishable characteristics.
Doran coached one more season after ’96, and then took some time away to reflect on his life and career—one, at this point, festooned with accolades. In 2001, he and his wife retired to Florida, where he, inevitably, continued to mentor young players, albeit more casually, until discovering a second life of sorts as a dedicated kayak enthusiast and fisherman, with a whole new playground: the Everglades. And as it often does, time moved along in his absence, and Shepherd Soccer did the same. Seasons came and went. Players arrived, made their contributions, and departed. The program evolved—and even received national recognition in 2005—sixteen years after its inception. With each new year, however, another page was flipped, and the illustrious career of the program’s original architect slowly slipped into the past. That is, until now.
Once again, with the unwavering support of Mike Jacobs, Doran was recognized on October 21st in front of many former players and their families. A collection of speeches were given in The Cumberland Room of The Student Center on Shepherd’s main campus, where both men thanked one another for the opportunity, and more so, the memories. Doran looked back on a near decade: “Without the efforts of many of the faces in this crowd, there might not even be a program here today. You men were the pioneers—and without the help of certain individuals, like Dr. Jacobs here, the program may have never gotten off the ground to begin with.” Jacobs echoed the sentiment, and then announced the establishment of the long-overdue Mike Doran Scholarship (specifically for Shepherd Soccer), as well as the initial groundwork and required documentation necessary for Doran’s induction into the Shepherd University Hall of Fame. Needless to say, this is a long time coming. But to steal a phrase (one of MANY) from the man of honor, himself: “In time, everything will happen as it’s supposed to.”
After the ceremony, all attendees made their way to the stadium to catch the first half of the football game—the stadium where many of Doran’s teams slowly, but surely, made their mark on West Virginia college soccer. Ram Stadium, of course, no longer resembles the charming little cove that once was, and Shepherd Soccer now has a respectable home out “back”—behind The Butcher Center and the plethora of new high-end dorm buildings. In time, the present program will likely enjoy benefits that its earliest members could only have dreamed of—the university seemingly grows by the week, as do its sports facilities. It stands to reason that before too long, the soccer park will be a marvel, like its football counterpart. And rightfully so—the program’s roots run long and deep. A proper home would be the ultimate full circle for its founding father—Doran surveyed this exact site over twenty years ago, only to have the endeavor buried by the athletic department.
Perhaps most poignant, on this day of honor, was one last speech. This one was again given by Doran, though its recipients likely won’t understand its magnitude until they, too, are well beyond their playing days (and the fleeting grandeur of youth). Before they took to the pitch for their own homecoming match later that afternoon, the 2011 Shepherd Men’s Soccer team found themselves at attention, in front of the very man who began the program within which they now thrive. As was expected, Doran’s soft Irish tone and affable manner won over each and every listener. He gave a brief history of the program, as well as encouragement for the future. He also delivered one of his two most beloved expressions: “Men, remember those that came before you; without their efforts—no matter the results—you wouldn’t be here.” The other one? “Leave the place a little better than you found it.”
— This is the part where I get to be an extremely grateful admirer, as well as an editor. Coach, as we called him then, and still do today, recruited me in 1992 from Martinsburg High School. We knew each other for a short time when I was younger, from soccer camps, but then there were quite a few years apart. He came back into my life when I was a senior at Martinsburg. Like a handful of guys over the years, I had offers from quite a few schools, but there was just something about Coach—it’s hard to explain. And in the years that followed, you could probably say that most of us, on many levels, were playing for him, as well as each other, just as much as we were playing for anything. And I think that’s why we discovered a unique brand of success during those years. At this point, I could speak about Coach for hours, and write pages upon pages—as most of the people who have known him could attest. To say Mike Doran was like a father figure to us all would be an enormous understatement. In particular, he and I developed a relationship that spills over into my life, even today. And believe me, we had our moments (with many reading this likely smiling and/or shaking their heads)—but in many ways, that’s what family’s about…and knowing Mike Doran the way we all did meant that we were way more than a team. We were a family. And as he often reflects upon today in many conversations, Coach is extremely proud of the fact that most of us are all still in contact with one another, and still quite close. Not enough will ever be said about those years. Fortunately, for the ones who experienced them, we have the memories comfortably residing in our hearts and minds. Life being what it is, I can’t think of a better place for them.
Checks should be made payable to The Shepherd University Foundation—indicate the Mike Doran Soccer Scholarship in the memo line.
For more information, contact Aaron Ryan at email@example.com or 304-876-5527.