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Dom Amore: For UConn's Ray Reid, scholarship fund is latest step in long-term effort to bring diversity to soccer coaching

The Hartford Courant — By Dom Amore The Hartford Courant

Sept. 14-- Bo Oshoniyi had finished a sensational freshman season at Southern Connecticut, the goalkeeper of the Division II national men's soccer champs, Final Four MVP, and he thought he had it made. Breezily, he kept assuring coach Ray Reid things were going fine in the classroom.

When the spring semester ended, Oshoniyi was summoned to the second floor of the Moore Fieldhouse, where Reid asked him to sit in the blue Adidas chair, reserved for those on whom the boom was about to be lowered. His GPA was 1.1.

"Literally, he had me in tears," Oshoniyi remembers, "because he's like, 'You're outta here. I'm not going to do this to your mother. I told her I would take care of you, make sure you graduate. Yeah, you won a national championship for me, but you're not doing anything you're supposed to do in the classroom.' From that moment on, I knew he cared about me as more than just a guy who could help him win championships."

Oshoniyi went on to win another championship, earn his degree in marketing, finance and communications, then had a long professional career. Nearing the end of his playing days, he was determined to go into coaching and Reid, by then at UConn, was his sounding board. "Where Ray helped was always being that guy I could bounce ideas off," Oshoniyi says, "and just giving me the confidence I could do it."

Today, Oshoniyi, 48, is the head coach at Dartmouth, one of only 11 African-American head coaches among 204 men's programs in NCAA Division I, according to a recent survey.

Three of those 11, Oshoniyi, Chris Gbandi at Northeastern and Bryheem Hancock at Radford, played for Ray Reid.

"What Ray stands for, the word 'opportunity' comes to mind," says Gbandi, who won the Herman Trophy with UConn's 2000 national champs. "If you look at the players he brought into UConn, the players who have gone on to be head coaches, he's given you the opportunity to fulfill your dream."

Last week, Reid made a loud statement about opportunity in soccer's coaching ranks, to resound far beyond Connecticut, launching the Reid Family Fund, which will provide scholarships for aspiring minority coaches to attend United Soccer Coaches' education course or annual convention. Reid is planting the seed with a $25,000 gift, and the pledge of a $75,000 estate gift, and will be at work raising additional money.

"A lot of people are talking about doing things," Reid says. "Talking this and talking that. It's really time for people to do things and stop talking."

As those who know Reid best will assure you, this is no grandstand play-it's who he is. The down time forced upon him by the pandemic has been enough to convince Reid, 60, he is far from ready to retire, not with a new stadium ready to open. But here is a man who made soccer his life's work, blessed with great opportunities, paying them forward. Long after he is retired, gone, the game balls turned yellow and the trophies tarnished with age, he should be remembered for this.

"The biggest thing I take away from it," Oshoniyi says, "is he has no agenda with it. It's truly to help college coaches with diverse backgrounds continue their education as coaches and build strong networks. ... A lot of minorities don't really think about coaching and getting into that aspect of the game, and the reason is, they just don't see a lot of people that look like them doing it."

Reid grew up in Brentwood, on Long Island, "a very diverse town," he says. "We just never saw color or race or religion."

His high school team, the teams he captained under Bob Dikranian at Southern, and the teams he eventually built there and at UConn included players from anywhere, everywhere. Just as diverse is the group of more than two dozen coaches, at various levels and positions, who played for or worked with Reid.

"He showed that it didn't matter whose house he would go into," says Hancock, who also played with the 2000 champs. "He made sure that everyone realized that they're just as important as the next person. It doesn't matter where you come from, if you're rich or if you're poor. It doesn't matter if English is your first language. He wants you to understand this is about building a family. He was ahead of the game at figuring out that if you could get a diverse group to play as one and really become a family, you can take a program to big heights."

But in a game that is popular in every corner of the planet, the coaching ranks lack the diversity to reflect that, lacking in Black, Latino and Asian coaches. When the 2018 season ended, the Black Soccer Membership Association found 91.2% of the 1,857 Division I, II and III men's and women's teams had white coaches.

"It's very obvious," Reid says. "This is not a new concept. We need diversity at all levels of soccer in this country. When they are done playing, there hasn't been a pathway, an opportunity for them to continue, so they went in other directions. Hopefully, this donation will open doors and create opportunities that weren't there before."

Reid envisions the day when this fund will generate three or four scholarships per year, allowing aspiring minority coaches to get the training and certification they need, and to form networks with coaches and athletic directors around the country.

And, as we all know, it only takes a moment to change a life, to find one's calling. Oshoniyi had his in 1990 in Reid's dreaded blue Adidas chair. Hancock, 40, remembers those talks in the coaches' office in Storrs where Reid told him he had what it takes to be a coach.

"He is vital. He's a mentor to me," Hancock says. "Even as I was playing at UConn, we'd have talks in his office and he was saying, several times, you'd be a guy that can be a coach when you're ready. We talk almost daily. He's someone I trust and lean on to get advice."

Gbandi, 41, remembers playing at a showcase event in New Jersey, where college coaches could watch, but not talk to recruits. Whenever the play took Gbandi close to Reid, who was sitting in the front row of bleachers, Reid would smile and point to his UConn shirt. That, of course, is about as Ray Reid as it gets; Gbandi started researching the Huskies' program that evening.

"For us, being African-American," Gbandi says, "getting a chance to come to UConn and change our trajectory, playing for a great coach, and after you're done, him being there to support you and help you through your journey as a head coach, or whatever you want to do in life, says a lot about him as a person."

For Reid, this is the responsibility that comes with coaching soccer at the level he has, an obligation to leave the game better than when he came in.

"You know, Coach Dikranian told me at Southern and Coach (Joe) Morrone told me, when I got to UConn," Reid says, "these are two pretty high-profile positions in the country in college soccer. You need to use these positions to try to influence change."

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