The Advocacy Awards of Excellence honor an individual, organization or group that has shown outstanding work representative of the values of their respective Advocacy Group and dedication to meeting the association’s highest ideals of inclusion and diversity in the game of soccer. Recipients were nominated by United Soccer Coaches members and selected by each individual Advocacy Group.
“The United Soccer Coaches Advocacy Groups continue to advance the game in meaningful ways while advancing the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion in service to coaches,” said Kevin Sims, United Soccer Coaches President. “Recipients of the Award of Excellence are to be applauded for their commitment and influence to expand the reach of the beautiful game.”
The recipients of this year’s Advocacy Awards of Excellence are:
Black Coaches Award of Excellence – Sam Okpodu
Disabilities Allies Award of Excellence – Shawn Danhouser
Faith-Based Coaches Award of Excellence – Pete Felske
Latino Coaches Award of Excellence – Jaime Ramirez
LGBTQ & Allies Award of Excellence – Robin Hart
Native American Coaches Award of Excellence – Boyna Bear
A longtime member of the association and a member of the Black Soccer Coaches Advocacy Group since the early 1990s, Okpodu served as Chair for two terms. He served as a National Staff instructor for many years and has been a mentor to many members of the Black coaches group both within the association and internationally during his 30-plus years as a coach. He is currently the 2004 Boys Head Coach with Lee-Mount Vernon Sports Club. Prior to joining LMVSC, he was the Executive Director of the South Carolina Youth Soccer Association and served as Head Men’s Soccer Coach at Newberry College. He started the women’s soccer program at Virginia Tech and began his coaching career leading the Nigerian Women’s National Team to the African Women’s Championship, qualifying them to play in the FIFA Women’s World Cup in the U.S.
Danhouser has been involved with the game for 40 years including 15 as a coach primarily at the youth and high school levels, but his main focus is working with players with special needs. He co-founded the Addison United SC travel soccer team in 2007 and founded the Chicago TOPSoccer adaptive soccer team in 2011. He was named the TOPSoccer State Chair for Illinois Youth Soccer in 2012, the US Youth Soccer Midwest Regional TOPSoccer Chair in 2014 and was appointed to U.S. Soccer’s Disability Committee in 2020. He was honored by Illinois Youth Soccer and US Youth Soccer as the 2017 Midwest Region Volunteer of the Year and the 2020 Midwest Region TOPSoccer Coach of the Year. He’s an active member in the Disabilities Allies, LGBTQ & Allies, and Latino Coaches Advocacy Groups.
Now in his 33rd season as the Head Women’s Soccer Coach at Wheaton College (Ill.), Felske has a lifetime of service to the Christian soccer community and to the Thunder program. He is the only coach in the program’s history and has compiled a 525-128-41 record while leading Wheaton to 21 conference titles, seven NCAA semifinal appearances and three national championships in 2004, 2006, and 2007. He is a three-time National Coach of the Year and he ranks third among active NCAA Division III coaches in victories and is fourth among all levels of the NCAA. He has had a major impact on his players and fellow coaches during his tenure. The Wheaton model is one that represents Christ, first and foremost, and has influenced hundreds of his current and former players and coaches.
Ramirez has been a true servant to the game during his long career both on the field as the head coach at Fresno Pacific University and in his community as a role model for all those he comes in contact with. He has a career record of 330-170-35 in 28 seasons as the head coach at FPU. His teams have won 10 conference championships, five regional titles and nine times his teams have qualified for the national tournament. He was also instrumental behind the creation of FPU’s women’s soccer team, guiding the program from its inaugural club season in 1998 up through its first five intercollegiate seasons before yielding head coaching responsibilities to his long-time assistant prior to the 2006 season.
Hart is in her third season as the head women’s soccer coach at Cal State East Bay after taking over in March of 2018 and has established an inclusive, supportive culture within her program that makes every player comfortable in their surroundings. Prior to CSUEB, she spent one season as the head women’s coach at Menlo College, leading the Oaks to the program’s highest win total since 2014 with an 11-5-3 mark. She has also spent time as an assistant coach at Sonoma State University and her alma mater, San Francisco State. In addition to her work in the college game, Hart has worked with youth club players at East Bay United Soccer Club and Santa Rosa United Soccer Club. She is a past member of the United Soccer Coaches 30 Under 30 Program.
A citizen of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma, Bear has coached at the club, collegiate, and grassroots levels. He served as the Chair of the Native American Coaches Advocacy Group from 2009-17 and has led numerous coaching education courses to introduce and grow the game in Native American communities. As a player, coach, advisor, and administrator he has tried to honor, represent, and model the values of the collective Native American Community. He has worked to celebrate the accomplishments of Native American coaches, players, and communities. He continues to work on integrating traditional values into player, coach, and community development and success.