Coach Ray Woodard — retired Indian Springs soccer coach and the "Father of Soccer in Alabama" — died yesterday, July 16, in Birmingham. He was 72.
Funeral services will be held Sunday, July 19, at 2 p.m. at Christ Church United Methodist, 5191 Caldwell Mill Road, Birmingham, with a visitation on Saturday, July 18, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Southern Heritage Funeral Home, 475 Cahaba Valley Road, Pelham. In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to the Indian Springs School Ray Woodard Field
, Discovery Ministries
, or the Urban Ministry Community Kitchen
A Stellar Career
Known as "Coach" by all who knew him, Coach Woodard was the winningest high school soccer coach in Alabama and among the winningest in the nation with a record of 396-228-70.
In 1963, Coach Woodard became physical education teacher and soccer coach at Indian Springs, where he served until he retired in 1998 due to health reasons. In spite of health limitations, including a stroke that left him partially paralyzed, he returned to the school to co-coach the JV soccer team during 1999-2000 and supported and inspired Springs soccer from the sidelines throughout his retirement. He also coached volleyball, track, girls soccer, boys JV basketball, and girls basketball at ISS.
An Indelible Imprint on Alabama Soccer
Throughout his career, Coach Woodard worked tirelessly on behalf of the game of soccer. Under his leadership, Indian Springs became known as the "birthplace of soccer" in Alabama. In 1975, he started the Indian Springs Invitational, the first tournament to invite high school teams from throughout the state to compete. This invitational became the model for the Alabama State Tournament when soccer was sanctioned by the state in 1991.
Coach Woodard served as the first and only president of the Dixie Conference (1964-1981), a high school league that included teams from Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. He also served as president of the Greater Birmingham Soccer Officials Association, and helped start Birmingham's first amateur men's soccer team in 1969. Coach Woodard was the first National "A" licensed coach in Alabama (1979) and, for 10 years, the only National "A" licensed coach in Alabama. He was the first Director of Coaching for the state of Alabama, and ran most of the referee and coaching clinics throughout the state in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. He also ran youth soccer clinics starting in the 1970s.
In 1982, he became the first coach of the Alabama State Select Team, now called the Alabama Olympic Development Program (ODP), which identifies potential regional and national soccer team players from the state and offers them unique opportunities for training and competition. While serving as the Director of Coaching for Alabama ODP, he worked on the ODP's South Regional Coaching Staff. He was on the Alabama ODP coaching staff until his stroke in 1997. He was also on the Tampa Bay Rowdies Camp "Kick in the Grass" staff in the 1970s.
"As the 'father' of high school interscholastic soccer at Springs and in the state, Coach Woodard was, quite simply, the heart and soul of soccer in Alabama," said ISS Director Gareth Vaughan. "His dedication to the sport and to the lives of young people at Indian Springs and beyond speaks volumes about the kind of generous person he was."
Honors Over the Years
His honors over the years include the Alabama High School Athletic Directors and Coaches Association Award of Merit, the Birmingham Metro Soccer League Coach of the Year, the Jon Miller Magic Soccer Award for Excellence in Coaching, the U.S. Amateur Soccer Association Region III Coach of the Year, the Southeast National Collegiate Scouting Association Coach of the Year for Boys Youth Soccer, the U.S. Youth Soccer Region III Boys Coach of the Year, and the U.S. Youth Soccer National Boys Coach of the Year.
In 1999, the Civitan Club named its Coach of the Year Award the Ray Woodard Award for Men and Women's High School Coach of the Year. Two years later, Indian Springs built and named its new Olympic-size soccer field in his honor.
"Anyone involved in the sport of soccer in Alabama knew of Coach Woodard," said ISS Varsity Boys Soccer Coach Rik Tozzi. "His desire to share the game he loved, coupled with his untiring work ethic, brought soccer from obscurity to the popularity it enjoys in Alabama today. Countless coaches, referees and players in Alabama have benefited from his dedication to the sport."
His Life and Family
A native of Rochester, N.Y., Coach Woodard was an All-American (1959) standout in soccer at the former College at Brockport in New York, now known as State University of New York (SUNY) at Brockport.
He is survived by his wife, Mary Woodard; children Eric Woodard '83 (Kara), Christa Woodard Webb '85 (Joe), Michelle Woodard '85, and Becky Woodard Oddo (Tony); and stepchildren Lea Traylor Smith (David), Steve Traylor (AJ), Wade Traylor (Melanie), Melody Traylor '82 and Ben Traylor. Also surviving are grandchildren Brandon, Parker and Keegan Woodard; Jason, Loryn and Ryan Webb; Jessica and Josh Woodard; Max and Zack Oddo; Cameron (Rachael), Craig (Charelette) and Rachael Smith; Stevie (Steve), Mary Jean and McKinley Traylor; Brent, Brook, Samantha and Brandon Traylor; Steven and Laurie Christolear; and Emma Traylor; and great-grandchildren Presley Smith and Caden Smith.