KANSAS CITY, Mo. (Nov. 18, 2021) – United Soccer Coaches announced on Thursday the recipients of seven Advocacy Group Awards of Excellence for 2021. The recipients will be honored during the annual Advocacy Hour Reception at 4:00 pm on Friday, January 21, 2022, during the 82nd annual United Soccer Coaches Convention in Kansas City, Mo.

The Advocacy Group Awards of Excellence honor an individual, organization or group that has shown a commitment and outstanding work on behalf of the values of each of the respective groups, meeting the association’s highest ideals of inclusion and diversity in the game.

“Our Advocacy Groups continue to advance the game in such meaningful ways, all in the name of diversity, equity and inclusion for our member coaches, their players and communities,” said Dr. Melissa Price, United Soccer Coaches President. “We are thankful to our leadership in these groups and salute their 2021 recipients who are making a difference by their commitment to expand the reach of our game.”

The recipients of the 2021 Advocacy Awards of Excellence are:

  • Asian Pacific Islander Coaches – Franz Gastler
  • Black Coaches – Stanley Harmon
  • Disabilities Allies Group – Tari St. John
  • Faith-Based Coaches – Lang Wedemeyer
  • Latino Coaches – Rick Flores
  • LGBTQ+ and Allies – Brie Smith
  • Native American Coaches – Marty Behler 

Asian Pacific Islander Coaches Advocacy Group

Franz Gastler becomes the first recipient of the award from API, the association’s newest advocacy group, after being its first guest speaker back in February 2021. An American serving as a business consultant overseas, he founded YUWA-India in 2009 in Jharkhand. YUWA means “Youth” in Hindi and Gastler started the program for young girls at risk to use soccer as a place to build character, confidence and courage. It started as a single team and now has over 300 players, making it one of the largest girls soccer programs in India, It is now coached by mostly females giving the young girls of that area positive adult role models. It is dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty and abuse among young girls in the country by challenging inequality through team sport and education. 

Black Soccer Coaches Advocacy Group

Stanley Harmon is a longtime member of United Soccer Coaches living in New York City. He has served on the leadership committee of the Black Soccer Coaches Advocacy Group since its inception. The former Head Soccer Coach at CUNY Medgar Evers College, Harmon has dedicated himself to working with young people in the city and educating coaches to use the game as a positive voice in the community and a tool to teach important life skills for success on an off the soccer pitch. He is a Guyanese-American and one of three directors of the Central Brooklyn Soccer Club. 

Disabilities Allies Advocacy Group

Tari St. John is in her 16th season as the women’s soccer coach at Butler University in Indianapolis and has led the Bulldogs to 10 winning seasons including an appearance in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. However, some of her greatest work has been done in the development of the local TOPSoccer program. In 2019, the Butler women’s program collaborated with Indiana Soccer and Special Olympics Indiana to form the Indiana TOPSoccer Academy that provides those exceptional athletes an opportunity to enjoy the game of soccer. Throughout the fall, her Butler players provide a series of clinics to engage the Special Olympians in games and activities that are fun and an inclusive and safe environment for all. Tari’s work with the program has inspired her college players to see diverse abilities in all kids and how the game can teach life lessons and prepare everyone for growth and success. 

Faith-Based Coaches Advocacy Group

Lang Wedemeyer is currently the Head Women’s Coach at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., while continuing to coach youth soccer. He has been a United Soccer Coaches member since 1991 and serves as a member of the National Coaching Academy Staff. He is a mentor for the association’s 30-Under-30 program. Lang will openly talk about the importance of his faith in leading his coaching and teaching philosophy. He is committed to helping young people develop spiritually as well as being an outstanding teacher of the physical and mental skills of the game. He has been an active member of the Faith-Based Coaches Advocacy Group for many years. 

Latino Coaches Advocacy Group

Rick Flores has been the Technical Director of the New Mexico Youth Soccer Association since 2019. He previously had stints with California Youth Soccer South (2017-19) and as State Director of Coaching for Illinois Youth Soccer Association (2012-17). He has been active with the Latino Coaches Advocacy Group, appearing on podcast to discuss coaching education and career paths and goals for Latino coaches in the sport. He is always willing to mentor young coaches and understands that their development will enhance player development and ultimately the game. He is a leader in the TOPSoccer program in New Mexico. 

LGBTQ+ and Allies Advocacy Group

Brie Smith is currently in her eight season as Head Women’s Soccer Coach at Clark University in Massachusetts, her alma mater. She previously was head coach at Moravian College and served nine years as an assistant at Tufts University. A United Soccer Coaches member since 2001, Smith has been a part of the leadership team for the LGBTQ+ and Allies Group from its inception. She has been a steward of increasing visibility and acceptance for LGBTQ+ players, coaches and families within the sport and bringing more people into the group’s leadership. Smith also is changing the narrative of being a working mom within the sport as a parent in a LGBTQ+ relationship, helping to highlight and celebrate all of these intersectional identities in our sport. She holds the United Soccer Coaches Advanced National Coaching Diploma. 

Native American Coaches Advocacy Group

Marty Behler has been an integral part of the soccer for over 40 years and supporting the game for Native American players, coaches and communities. One of the first female coaches to take the USSF B license in California, she went on to serve as head coach at numerous colleges in the state. She has been a part of the leadership in the Native American Advocacy group since its inception and an inspiration to other members. She has had a major impact on the West Coast with Native American programs that have been both successful and brought her major leadership awards and accolades throughout her career. A United Soccer Coaches member since 1982, she continues to mentor both players and coaches in the game. She is a Professor of Kinesiology at San Jose State University.