Games Grownups Play

Recruiting violations. Cutthroat competion. Big money. Larger egos. It isn't NCAA football. It's kids' soccer, Dallas style.

One night in midseason, Castro stopped by the Garland home of club president Butch Stokes to pick up his paycheck, the $2,100 he received monthly, year-round, for coaching three teams. Stokes surprised Castro with a new club policy: All team members must play at least one-third of each game. Stokes said the policy would placate several parents who were unhappy with the playing time.

"In theory, it was an admirable policy," Castro says, "but to implement it in midseason was wrong. No other team in the league had such a rule. It would put us at a distinct disadvantage and make us a laughing stock."

After calling the other coaches, Castro says, it was apparent that the new rule was instigated by a Genesis board member who was upset that his son played so little. All but two team parents wrote glowing letters to Stokes in support of Castro and expressing vehement opposition to the new policy.

"I am most impressed with the way in which [Castro] treats all the boys on the team," wrote Melissa Bouldin. "Our children are treated much differently from those on most clubs. It is refreshing to see that there is at least one professional coach who realizes that these are children and not a commodity."

When several other Genesis team managers and coaches demanded an open meeting to discuss the situation, along with other grievances, Stokes fired Castro. Stokes did offer Castro the chance to stay on for the rest of the season as a guest coach--without pay. Castro refused because he thought the firing unfounded and the guest-coach offer insulting. Stokes inserted himself as coach of record for the team on the official team paperwork, but never showed up for any practices. After the firing, Stokes called a meeting for the team parents. None showed up, figuring the damage had already been done.

Reached at his office at Texas Instruments, where he is a program manager, Stokes says he has no interest in rehashing the events, except to say, "Winning is personally important to me, but with children it is not that high on the list. Diego and I had different philosophies. He was not fired because of that difference, but the way he reacted when he realized we meant what we said."

Unsure whether the club president could fire a coach against the parents' wishes, Steve Hancock, the manager of Genesis '85, asked the NTSSA to meet to clarify the rules, but Herb Carter, NTSSA youth director, refused. The association warned the team that they could not leave the club unless the parents of every member of the team agreed. The parents of only two--the boy in question and his best friend, who was playing on scholarship for the team--were against leaving. Castro's other two teams did leave and renamed themselves Exodus for the remainder of the season.

The NTSSA's Carter wrote a harsh letter to the Genesis '85 parents. He blamed the parents and Castro for causing the predicament in which they found themselves. He castigated them for making angry calls to his office, for allegedly defacing Stokes' Garland home--it had been egged over Halloween--and for the sign disparaging the Genesis club which they brandished at the Celtic Tournament.

He added, ominously: "You and the '85 parents are currently exposed in regard to violations of NTSSA rules and ethics, and are individually responsible and accountable to the state office."

The parents, rebuffed by the only authority to which they could turn, were left to answer the questions of their bewildered children. One boy, a star player for Castro's team of players younger than 15 who mentored a 10-year-old on the '85 team, told his mother: "You always taught me to play by the rules. See where it gets you?"

The Dallas Texans Soccer Club, the brash upstart that in just three years has come to dominate almost every age division in the Classic League, is resented by virtually every other club for, among other things, cherry-picking the best players from the other clubs--allegedly luring some of them at times other than during the two-week League-imposed summer recruiting period--by making big promises of playing time, spots on the state and regional teams, and the prospects of college scholarships. Critics of the Dallas Texans reserve special enmity for the team's founder and head coach, Hassan Nazari, a former star on the Iranian national team who they claim has imbued his club with a win-at-all-costs mentality.

They call him the Satan of Select Soccer.
If Hassan Nazari is, in fact, the devil, then hell smells a lot like the men's cologne counter at Neiman Marcus, and Satan dresses like a GQ model. Clad in a navy blazer, matching wool scarf, and a two-day stubble, and perfumed to a fare-thee-well, Hassan Nazari makes no bones about his ambition to bring youth soccer to a new level in North Texas by creating a supercharged franchise of the best players and best coaches. Nazari dismisses his critics as simply jealous of the Dallas Texans' success.

Nazari, the youngest of five children, was orphaned by the age of 5. From an early age, he was passionate about soccer. At 16, he was the youngest player on Iran's national team. He played for Iran in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal and in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. In the early 1980s he arrived in Dallas to play for the now-defunct Tornados and became involved in youth soccer.

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