Kerr left his mark on soccer in our area

July 3, 2011 

In the two weeks since John Kerr Sr. died of heart disease at his home in Chapel Hill, N.C., stories have filtered out from many of the places he stopped during his almost five decades of involvement at various levels of competitive soccer. Each one speaks of the influence he had on the local soccer scene.

    Hilton Head Island is no different.

    Kerr, a colorful Scotsman with a staggering resume playing and coaching the beautiful game, didn't hang around for long. But in his short time here, he rejuvenated the Hilton Head-Bluffton Soccer Club, coached the Hilton Head High boys to the Class 4-A quarterfinals in his only year with the Seahawks and inspired a new level of enthusiasm for the sport -- even among those who were already entrenched in it.

    "The passion he put into it, he got everyone so excited about the game again," said Ernie Suozzi, a longtime soccer coach in the area. "For the short amount of time he was here, he brought so much."

    When Hilton Head High boys coach Jose Pumarejo resigned before the 2005-06 school year, in large part because of pressure from a group of parents with unrealistic expectations for a high school coach, someone in The Island Packet sports department remarked that Bruce Arena -- then the coach of the U.S. men's national team -- wasn't walking through that door.

    But John Kerr did.

    Kerr was so grounded in his love for the game that he didn't see himself as being above coaching at any level, despite lofty credentials that might have suggested otherwise.

    That continued after his departure, as Kerr went on to work with the Triangle United club in North Carolina, where he could be closer to his son, John Jr., who is the head coach of the men's team at Duke University.

    "His love for the game was just infectious," said Ken Weisner, who followed Kerr as Hilton Head High's boys coach and whose daughter, Katie, plays for Triangle United.

    The expertise Kerr honed playing professionally in four countries translated well to the coaching ranks, as this area's soccer fans quickly learned. He helped restructure some of the philosophies of the Hilton Head-Bluffton Soccer Club, which had grown somewhat stagnant -- most notably encouraging the practice of coaching players in larger pools rather than smaller teams, which provided an opportunity to expose more coaches and players to different coaching techniques.

    His coaching style mimicked his playing style -- he was considered one of the first European players to adopt what was known as the Brazilian style, emphasizing ball control and playing with flair -- and that philosophy allowed a talented, if sometimes freewheeling, Seahawks squad to flourish in its one season under him in 2006.

    "They played above themselves all season," Kerr said after a season-ending 3-1 loss to Wando capped a 21-6 campaign.

    But most everyone agreed it was because of Kerr that they were able to do so.

    "He probably was the one who helped elevate all the rest of us in this area," said John Woodring, who was Bluffton High School's boys soccer coach from 2004-07. "He prompted all of us to want to be better, because he was such a great coach himself."

    Kerr was, however -- how shall I put this? -- a bit unorthodox as a high school coach. He is known in soccer circles for his colorful language, though some of that could be lost in his thick Scottish accent. And rumor has it his idea of watching film, so to speak, was parking the team in front of the television at a local pub to watch English Premier League games.

    None of that would shock anyone who knew him.

    "He was just a great character," Suozzi said.

    One whose influence is still felt here and everywhere else he stopped, even by those who never crossed his path.

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