De Soto father and son’s actions define meaning of commitment
At every home match this year, a group of parents could be found watching the De Soto High School soccer team from a hill overlooking the field. Among them was one man seemingly out of place. While the mothers and fathers -- mostly of seniors -- watched the matches in a tortured state known only to parents of high school athletes, David Dabbs calmly encouraged the team and praised the outstanding play of opponents.
Dabbs demeanor is partly a matter of perspective. He doesn't have a son on this year's team. The other parents on the hill will tell you, however, Dabbs has a special place among them.
In the United States, soccer is a suburban sport -- as much a part of life in the Johnson County's eastern communities as cappuccino cafes and cul-de-sacs. Ask fathers like Bob Powers or Tim Maniez why the sport leaped the Kansas Highway 7 divide that separates De Soto from so many of the trappings of the suburban culture to the east, and they'll tell you "Dave Dabbs."
Fourteen years ago, Dabbs helped bring the sport to the community as a coach and official in a league that fielded 10 De Soto teams with those from Gardner and Wellsville.
"They were looking for coaches," he said. "I wanted to make sure the kids got an opportunity to play, so I went out and got a bunch of books and videos and went to clinics."
Dabbs said he coached nearly all the seniors on this year's Wildcat team at some time since they joined 6-and-under teams when the league first formed. Those young players eventually got too good for that league and for the teams they later played in Lawrence. In search of competition, the team went to the heart of Johnson County soccer.
"We were beating everybody under 12," he said. "In order to get better, we took the kids to a premier league in Heritage Park. The first year we only won one game. The second year, they won the championship of their division.
"They didn't get disgruntled; they didn't quit. Over there, they found out it took 11 guys working together to win."
Dabbs deflects much of the praise the soccer dads bestow on him, insisting the kids deserve much of the credit for their success.
"Everybody says it was me, but it was the kids who did it all," he said. "I think the kids taught me as much as I taught them."
One of those kids was his son Christopher, who was among the youngsters playing when the league formed. Two years ago he was a goalie on the Wildcats' state-qualifying team.
"He was a goalie in high school. For me, he did everything I asked of him. In my opinion, he was a very talented player."
Christopher still kicks around a soccer ball in his spare time, his father said. But leisure hours can be hard to come by in northeastern Iraq. Christopher is in the Army's elite 101st Airborne Division, training Iraqis to serve as guards along the county's long, mountainous border with Iran.
Christopher is stationed among the Kurds, a people in northern Iraq who felt the heel of Saddam Hussein's oppression. Unlike the Arabs in the so-called Sunni Triangle surrounding Baghdad, the Kurds generally welcome Americans as liberators.
"He says the people are real friendly," Dabbs said. "They are invited into homes. They get invited for dinner and to celebrate with them.
"He says he's having a great time. I don't know how. There's nothing to do."
It sounds reassuring, but Christopher has been on four of five convoys that have either been attacked or struck a mine. No one has been killed, but there have been injuries. Just how many, the young paratrooper can't reveal in his e-mails.
Asked if he worried, the expression on Dabbs' face answered before he gathered his thoughts.
"I worry everyday. I was just thinking that it was one year ago today (Friday) we said our goodbyes. Not goodbye -- he said that was too final. We said, 'See you later.'"
Later is now expected to be in late January or early February of next year. That is if the Army doesn't extend Christopher's tour of duty again as it did in July.
With his son off in a war-torn foreign land, Dabbs ended his long association with De Soto youth soccer. He wanted to be able to take off if his son returned on leave -- or worse.
"I always told the kids, 'If you want to do this, don't do it half way. You're making a commitment to your teammates to be at all the practices and games. I felt like I was sending the wrong message if I couldn't make that commitment."
Commitment seems to be a trait the Dabbs family takes seriously.