Thursday, February 15, 2024

From the Magazine: Goal Scorer

On a bureau in the living room of Lin Hurley’s Delray Beach home sit the usual family mementos—a photo album, framed pictures of kids and grandkids and beloved pets. But over the past year and a half, new additions have joined this menagerie of memories, each more prestigious than the last.

There’s an award recognizing Hurley as the statewide winner of Coach of the Year for her contributions to TOPSoccer, which provides soccer facilities and instruction for children with special needs. There’s also a wood plaque honoring Hurley as the 2022 TOPSoccer coach for the entire Southeast region.

And there’s a glass statuette, as heavy as a free weight and topped by a frosted-glass soccer ball, representing her most recent award: National TOPSoccer Coach of the Year, which she received Oscars-style, complete with an acceptance speech, at a ceremony in Philadelphia. A month later, she received a formal proclamation for her achievements from the City of Boca Raton; that’s framed on the bureau too.

For Hurley, as humble a person as you’re likely to meet, the snowball effect has been surreal, and when asked why she received such accolades, she demurs. “I’ve been coaching for 24 years,” she says. “Never in a million years” did she expect to be showered with such admiration from her community, her colleagues and the TOPsoccer brass. But Vic Nocera, director of TOPSoccer Boca Raton, is happy to toot Hurley’s horn.

“She’s got a heart of gold, he says. “She loves the special-needs community. … All the kids she teaches love her. She’s easy to approach and makes everything fun. We’re honored to have her as our coach.

“She’s modest; she said, ‘it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.’ I said, ‘listen, you deserve it. You earned it.’ … I couldn’t be more proud of her and her accomplishments. She a wonderful person inside and out.”

Hurley has been involved in the lives of special-needs youth since high school. At Boca Raton High, through her Juniorettes service club, Hurley “adopted” a girl at a psychiatric institution in Miami. She and a few fellow-club members would drive down monthly to spread some cheer in their adoptee’s life. This was in 1966, when terms like “mentally retarded” were still in vogue.

“I remember going into this huge room; it seemed like hundreds of beds, and these children, they all were institutionalized, and all with special needs,” Hurley recalls. “And I just fell in love. I knew that God had a plan for me.”

Hurley attended University of South Florida in Tampa, earning a degree in Special Education, and upon graduating she taught developmentally disabled students, mostly with Down syndrome, at J.C. Mitchell Elementary in Boca. Later, she started a program at the YMCA of South Palm Beach County that provided after-school field trips—from polo fields to swimming pools to a Publix warehouse—for special-needs kids.

After taking a break to raise her four children, Hurley discovered TOPSoccer Boca Raton at the organization’s 2000 inception, and has been an integral part of its seasons (from January through March at University Woodlands Park) ever since. (She also taught elementary school—instructing non-special-needs 3- and 4-year-olds—for 20 years, retiring in 2021.)

In the all-volunteer position, she works alongside fellow-coaches and “buddies”—local high schoolers who bond with and assist the players for community service hours. The program has blossomed to 150 players across 18 teams.

Hurley starts each game day with a group run, followed by obstacle courses, with ropes and cones, to engage the participants. Then come the modified soccer games, in which the sport’s typical rules do not apply. “They keep trying to score goals, and basically that’s it.” Hurley says. “They don’t know anything about winning or losing. They think they win all the games. They’ll say, ‘did we win?’ I’ll say, ‘of course you won!’ Thanking the parents and the kids, I always make something special up about each one of them—maybe it’s ‘you’re a goal-scoring machine!’ A lot of it is being a cheerleader for them.”

A youthful 72, Lin shows no signs of slowing down her commitment to special-needs children. When asked to reflect on her aptitude for teaching this population, she says, “I think love is really important, having that love for them. And patience. I have a lot of patience, always have—God gave me that. I have faults, but impatience isn’t one of them.”

This article is from the January 2024 issue of Boca magazine. For more like this, click here to subscribe to the magazine.

John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of bocamag.com, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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