For the first time in nearly 40 years, the girls’ varsity soccer team at Lake Mary High has a new head coach... But this new coach has a very familiar last name.
Lake Mary High School girls’ soccer coach Bill Eissele wasn’t planning to retire this season. The legendary coach, who founded the school’s program in 1983, had every intention of coaching his girls this fall, just as he had done in each of the past 37 years. But sometimes life gets in the way of our plans, and such was the case for Bill in what has become the very unusual year of 2020.
First, in mid-March, the COVID-19 pandemic swept through our country, causing many sports events – among other things – to be canceled or postponed. Then, two months later, Bill’s daughter Meagan gave birth to his and wife Susan’s granddaughter Sophia in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Suddenly, the thought of spending more time with family seemed to make more sense than dealing with the uncertainty of coaching high-school sports during a pandemic.
The Eisseles’ perspective was also affected by the tragic loss of their first grandchild, Emerson, who died shortly after her birth two years ago. So, even more so than usual, Sophia’s birth was truly a blessing for the close-knit family.
“Like so many of us, the coronavirus changed our world; that definitely was part of it,” says Bill, who, at age 66, was concerned about his vulnerability around his soccer players. “Then, when Sophia was born, Meagan and Vince [Capera, her husband] indicated that they could use some help. So we sat down and talked about what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go. Obviously, we wanted to be with Sophia, so we decided to do it.”
Resigning from coaching was almost an afterthought, but Bill knew that moving away from Lake Mary would require him to give up all his soccer coaching duties. That’s a pretty big deal when you consider Bill has coached more than 900 games during his tenure, amassing an impressive 660-206-71 career record, including three State Championships (1989, 1998, and 2001) along with 12 district and nine regional championships.
And then there was the huge question of who could possibly carry on the Eissele legacy at LMHS. Turns out, that was the easiest part.
Bill is leaving the Rams’ soccer program in the best of hands. His son Christian Eissele, 28, has already been named as his successor.
“I know when October, November, and December roll around, I will be missing it,” Bill said as he made the 500-mile drive to Fayetteville in early September. “But I’m also so looking forward to spending time with my daughter, granddaughter, and son-in-law. So, I think it was just the right time.”
Family and soccer have gone hand-in-hand for Bill since he first stepped foot on the Lake Mary High campus during the fall of 1982. He taught English as a student intern from the University of Central Florida and convinced boys’ soccer coach Larry McCorkle to let him help with his team. Principal Don T. Reynolds (father of Dr. Mickey Reynolds, the current LMHS principal) told Bill that the school wanted to start a girls’ soccer team the following year and asked if he was interested in coaching it.
“I said, ‘Heck, yeah! That would be great!’” Bill remembers.
And that was the beginning of an impressive 37-year career.
Bill’s love affair with sports, however, started much earlier. Born April 14, 1954 in Baltimore, Maryland, Bill recalls an incident that happened during the first week of first grade that epitomizes his obsession with sports.
“I never went to class,” admits Bill, who was about six years old at the time. “Instead, I went to the playground right down the street and spent the day playing.”
The school’s principal called Bill’s mother and asked her if she was going to bring young Billy to school. She told the principal that she had dropped him off at school every day.
“When I came home that day,” Bill says, “my mom asked, ‘Where have you been going?’ I said, ‘I’ve been going to the playground.’ She asked me why, and I told her, ‘I don’t need school. I’m going to be a professional athlete!’ That was my logic.”
Bill simply loved sports and wanted to play everything. At Dulaney High School, Bill starred in basketball, soccer, and baseball. During his senior year, an assistant golf pro at a local club – where Bill spent summers working as a caddy – talked him into becoming a professional golfer.
“I used to fool around in the summertime, hitting balls,” Bill says. “The pro said, ‘Why don’t you take up golf? You’re a good athlete.’ So, instead of going to college, I applied to the PGA [Professional Golfers’ Association] apprentice program.”
From 1972-1981, Bill played professional golf, mostly on the mini tour (lower-level tournaments), but he did play one full year on the PGA Tour before injuries caused him to call it quits. During that time, he completed three years of college by attending night school. To finish his degree, Bill decided to enroll at the University of Central Florida because his parents had already moved to Seminole County back in 1971.
After earning a degree in English education, Bill worked one semester at South Seminole Middle School before Don Reynolds was able to hire him as a full-time teacher at LMHS in the fall of 1983. In addition to starting the girls’ soccer program, Bill continued to help with the boys’ team for a few years and even coached the boys’ and girls’ golf teams. In 1992, after Don Reynolds retired, Bill convinced the new principal, Don Smith, to also let him take over the struggling theater department.
“There were a lot of long days, but I loved it,” Bill says. “Teaching and coaching at Lake Mary High School never felt like a job to me. I was the most blessed individual. I loved every minute of it.”
Bill married Susan in 1988, and they welcomed Meagan in 1990 and Christian in 1992. His children both grew up around the soccer program and theater department, and at an early age, they learned the meaning of family and the concept of working together for a common goal. Both also played soccer for Lake Mary High School.
“Coach Eissele has the uncanny ability to take [players of] all levels of athletic abilities, diverse personalities, attitudes, backgrounds, etc., and mold them into one team with a common goal,” says Donna Rohr, captain and star player on the 1989 State Champion team, which was LMHS’s first state title in any sport. “The life lessons and relationships he built are so important to his alumni. We remain friends and are in touch with one another even 30 years later. He is my mentor, my friend now, and my coach always.”
You’re Up, Son
Now it’s up to Christian, a recently retired professional soccer player, to take over the reins, and he is thrilled to have the opportunity. Like his father, Christian grew up playing sports. His first memory of kicking around soccer balls was when he was a toddler on the sidelines of a Rams game. At Lake Mary High, he played three years of varsity soccer and tennis and graduated in December 2009.
After two semesters at UCF, Christian traveled to England, “with a suitcase and my dream,” he says, to pursue a professional soccer career. He spent a year at a soccer academy, and then played almost six seasons of professional soccer in Finland and Sweden. In Finland, Christian met his wife Julia. They married in December 2019.
“I was always interested in coaching,” says Christian, who assisted his father at Lake Mary during professional soccer’s offseason for the past five years. “When my parents decided to move, it seemed like the right timing and right situation. My dad had such a passion and love for teaching and coaching, and I feel a big responsibility to continue the tradition he started here. He will always be a part of this program, and if I can be in the program as long as he was, that would be cool.”
“Thank You, Coach Hawk”
With Bill’s retirement comes another bittersweet end to a legendary coaching career at LMHS
Bill Eissele and his longtime assistant girls’ soccer coach Howard “Coach Hawk” Hawkins had a long-running inside joke. One of them would ask the other, “When are you going to retire?” And the response would be, “I don’t know. When are you going to retire?” And that went on for years.
Then, sometime around this past July, Coach Hawk actually did get a call from Bill. He said, “I’m moving to North Carolina.”
Coach Hawk, who had been Bill’s assistant since 1988, was flabbergasted. But he also figured it was about time to step down, himself, just as the two had jokingly planned for so many years.
“I was ready to do another year, but then the coronavirus came along, and I was a little bit nervous being around kids,” says Coach Hawk, now 75, who also had cancer surgery last year. “I figured this would be a good time to retire from coaching. I can play golf a couple times a week and go fishing and do stuff with my wife [Judi Echterling-Hawkins].”
Family has always been a big part of Coach Hawk’s life. When retired Lake Mary boys’ soccer coach Larry McCorkle was coaching at Seminole High School, Coach Hawk became his assistant in 1976 and was the Seminoles’ head coach from 1981-1984. But it bothered him that he wasn’t able to watch his daughter Julie play soccer at Bishop Moore Catholic High School, so he decided to quit coaching.
When younger daughter Barbie enrolled at Lake Mary High School in 1988, Coach Hawk told Bill that if he ever wanted to start a junior varsity girls’ team, he would be interested in coaching it.
“Bill called me up one day and said, ‘We’re doing it!’” says Coach Hawk, who was also an elementary school physical education teacher until he retired in 2008. “To me, it was always fun. The thing that really amazed me was the quality of the kids who came through the Lake Mary program. Not only were they good athletes, they were good people, too. Lake Mary was just a great place to coach.”
Barbie ended up being on Lake Mary’s first State Championship team in 1989. Coach Hawk’s stepdaughter Jessica Echterling was on the Rams’ last State Championship team in 2001.
“Coach Hawk has been a special part of our program,” Bill says. “He was the best assistant/JV coach anybody can ask for. The girls loved him. He’s just a fabulous man and a great coach. He did a great job.”
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