Training a second-grade boy in soccer led to Durango High School soccer coach Dalon Parker finding a second family, and eventually, his way to Durango.
Ten years ago when Austin Kelly, a senior at Durango High School, was a tennis player, he attended camps and met Parker, who was a conditioning coach in the Dallas area. Kelly would come home and tell his mother, Darlis Burris, all about his favorite coach.
“He told me amazing things about Dalon,” Burris said. “I knew the man who ran the tennis program Austin was attending and asked him about Dalon. I found out he played soccer and basketball at Dallas Baptist, so I asked Dalon if he would work on soccer skills and conditioning with Austin twice a week.”
Parker became a mentor to Kelly, and the two quickly became close, as Parker instilled life lessons along with his coaching.
“He’s always been a big brother to me,” Austin said. “He’s closer to me than most of my family, and he’s helped me grow as a person and a player.”
Parker and his future wife, Sarah, began visiting Burris and Kelly after practices and would have dinner together. They quickly built a relationship, and it helped lead Parker to Durango. Burris and Kelly moved to Durango in 2012 and stayed in contact with Parker until he and Sarah moved here in 2013. Since then, Parker has been a highly successful boys and girls varsity soccer coach for the Demons, and he coached Kelly all four years of his high school career.
“They’re my lifeline,” Parker said. “They’ve been my family’s lifeline. We are family. I call Darlis mom and Austin is definitely a little brother. He hasn’t had it easy with me being here and coaching him. We’ve gone through the loops making sure nobody can say we’ve given him anything. That’s been the hardest thing for him. It’s not fair, but he grew up to be a great young man and grew up to have a magical goal that changed our season.”
Kelly was a key player on the Demons’ defense and midfield his junior and senior seasons, playing significantly more minutes as a senior. In the second round of the Class 4A state tournament, Kelly scored an overtime goal against Skyview to send the Demons to the state quarterfinals.
“It was one of those special moments you never forget,” said Burris, who was on the sideline snapping photos of the game as she always has.
“You’re sitting there thinking about 10 years of their relationship together. I was extremely proud of both of them.”
Burris has watched both men she calls her sons mature over the last 10 years. They’ve built a foundation together, and perhaps none of Parker’s immaculate success in Durango would have come without the chance encounter with a second-grade boy 10 years ago.
Kelly served as a manager to the girls varsity teams Parker coached. He will graduate this spring, and Parker will continue to coach the Demons. Kelly said he is proud of the success Parker has had, especially during the 2016-17 year in which he has been a coach for three league championship teams in boys soccer, boys basketball and girls soccer.
“He dedicates 200 percent of himself to being a coach,” Kelly said.
“If he wants to find a bigger job someday, it won’t be hard for him with all of the success he has had here.”