Derry man leads Chattahoochee High School soccer team to top spot in U.S.A.
Les Meenan's Derry accent is still just as strong today as it was when he left the city to take up a university scholarship playing soccer in Indiana in the U.S.A. 22 years ago. A lot has happened since then.
Les spent five years studying in Indiana before moving to Alpharetta in Georgia where he taught Physical Education (P.E.) at Chattahoochee High School in John’s Creek. Les is still a teacher at the school.
“I married a Waterside woman so I had no choice in whether I could keep my Derry accent or not,” joked Les.
As a young man growing up in Rosemount in Derry, Les, like many of his friends, loved playing football.
“I played for Tristar F.C., Derry City F.C. Reserves and I also played for St. Columb’s College when I was a pupil there.
“My wife, Nichola and I and our two boys Ciaran and Darragh come back home to Derry every Christmas - it’s a nice dose of reality.”
Ciaran and Darragh were both born in the U.S.A. and Les revealed how a recent match between the Republic of Ireland and the U.S.A. presented his oldest son, Ciaran with a difficult choice.
“The boys are two wee Americans,” laughed Les.
“The U.S.A. was playing against Ireland a few years ago and Ciaran got himself all stressed out about which team he would support. In the end up he supported the U.S.A. but it really go to him,” he said.
Immediately after starting his new job at Chattahoochee High School, Les got involved with the school soccer team.
Les has coachced ‘The Cougars’ for the last 17 years and in that time they have won the state championship once and have been ranked as the number one high school soccer team in the state of Georgia.
In recent weeks Les and his team achieved something they never before thought possible; after embarking on a winning streak that lasted 18 consecutive matches, the Chattahoochee High School soccer team was ranked as the number one high school soccer team in the whole of the U.S.A.
“We couldn’t believe it when it happened - it was unreal,” admitted Les.
“We never thought anything like this would happen but fair play to my players they gave it everything they had and more. They worked so hard as a team and it paid off when we were officially ranked as the number one high school team in the country.”
Les added: “Soccer is really big here and the standard is quite good. There’s a real emphasis on athleticism and fitness here and the equipment we have to work with is amazing.
“The atmosphere at the games is amazing too - sometimes all of the fans come to the games wearing the same colours and we often have between 1,500 and 2,000 people at the games.”
Unfortunately, Chattahoochee’s winning streak came to an end last week when they lost 2-0 to rivals Parkview High School in the semi-final of the Georgia state championship.
“Obviously we were disappointed to lose the game but I couldn’t fault the players - I am so proud of them.”
Would he ever consider trying his hand at managing Derry City F.C.?
“I am an Everton supporter so I am hoping that Goodison Park come calling instead,” he joked.
Superstition played a big part in Chattahoochee’s winning streak.
Les hadn’t shaved during the first three victories and when his players labelled his beard as their ‘lucky charm’ Les was forced to let it grow.
“My wife wasn’t a big fan of the beard so when we lost to Parkview last week one of the first things I did was shave it off.
“The players refused to let me shave it off during the winning streak,” he laughed.
The academic year comes to an end in the U.S.A. in two week’s time and with the soccer season now over Les has already started to plan for next season.
“The good thing about the current crop of players is that only one or two of them will be moving on to college in the summer.
“The players already in the team are a pleasure to work with and I have every confidence that we will be the best in the state and go all the way next season,” he said.