Dalon Parker doesn’t care about wins and losses, but he wins a lot more than he loses.
The Durango High School coach is in the midst of another state playoff run with the girls varsity soccer team. Regardless of where the Demons finish in this year’s state tournament, it’s already been a banner year for the Demons and the 32-year-old Parker.
Parker has had undeniable success during the 2016-17 high school year. He coaches during all three seasons and helped lead all three teams he coaches to league championships. He started the year by leading the boys soccer team to the final four of the Class 4A state tournament and the 5A/4A Southwestern League championship as the team’s head coach. As an assistant coach on the varsity boys basketball team, he helped the Demons to their first SWL title since 2007 and a trip to the state tournament’s Sweet 16. As the head coach of the girls soccer team, he coached the team to its first SWL championship since 2012 and was on the sidelines for the girls’ first-round 6-0 playoff win Wednesday against Cañon City. It was the first time the Demons have won a first-round girls soccer state tournament match since 2008. With a second-round state tournament game still to play Saturday at Mullen, the teams Parker has coached have a combined record of 50-11 this school year.
“It’s been a blessed year, I can’t lie,” Parker said.
“I’ve had some great kids, and it started with the boys soccer team. They were amazing, and we had a special season. Boys basketball, amazing. And this girls group, they’ve been incredible. Really, from junior varsity to varsity, it’s been a blessed year. We’re working hard and focusing on character, not wins.”
Character and not wins. That’s what has made Parker so successful in five years at DHS. He preaches a family atmosphere and has seen his teams thrive most when players come together as one and eliminate drama. He’s never afraid to admit when his teams get beat by one that is better, and he will never blame players for a loss.
“He took me in when I was a little baby before I knew what the game meant,” DHS senior girls soccer player Peyton Floyd said. “More than just coaching, he kind of showed us how to be a family. That’s what’s brought our success this year. We’ve been so tight, and that’s all started from him.
“He made me a captain this year and sat me down, and I told him I wanted to win this year more than anything. I asked what it would take, and he said I needed to bring the girls together, and it was as simple as that. That’s something I’ll never forget. Family comes first.”
‘Family comes first’Parker grew up in Texas and graduated from Ovilla Christian School. He played college soccer and basketball at Ouachita Baptist University before he transferred his sophomore year to Dallas Baptist University to continue playing both sports. He then played professional soccer in Germany, making stops with three teams before returning to the Dallas area.
Parker moved to Durango in 2013 with his wife, Sarah. They were inspired to move to Durango by family friend Darlis Burris. Parker coached Burris’ son, Austin Kelly, in the Dallas area, and the two families developed a strong relationship. Parker was looking to move somewhere he could be a coach without having to be a teacher, and Colorado provided that opportunity. Burris and Kelly moved to Durango in 2012, and they kept in contact with Parker and urged him to consider moving to Durango.
Sarah found a job as a secretary at The River Church in Durango, and Parker landed the job as the girls soccer coach in 2013.
He has committed himself as a full-time coach, working in the offseason as a trainer for college and high school athletes. The rest of the time, Parker is hard at work to give his DHS teams the best chance to be successful.
“Our life is sports,” Sarah said. “If it means staying up to 3 or 4 a.m. to get it done, then he does it, and he does it because he loves his kids.”
The Parkers had a son, Elijah, a year ago. His son has become Parker’s top priority, and Sarah has watched Parker balance the long hours of coaching as well as his responsibilities to his own family.
“It’s a little bit tougher now when you have a kid,” Sarah said.
“But he prioritizes everything. Being a dad is his No. 1 over everything. It has been amazing to watch him have all this success and still be winning so many games while still being a dad first.”
Sarah and Eli attend almost all of the games Parker coaches. Parker said it wouldn’t be possible without his wife’s support and is proud of the example their relationship sets for his players.
“My wife is special,” Parker said. “It takes a special woman to be with a coach, an athletic director, whatever it may be where you deal with other peoples’ kids 24/7. She’s my rock. My wife and Eli, that’s my world.
“She takes it upon herself that the young ladies and men understand and get to look at our relationship. She wants them to see that not every day is always peaches, but what true love is and how it feels to have a spouse that supports you in everything you do. That’s what allows me to stay up until 4 a.m., allows me not to teach, allows me to go to the gym and blow off steam. Without her, I wouldn’t be able to do any of this.”
‘Building something more’Parker is a tactician. He knows soccer inside and out and will have his teams prepare for opponents based on specific tendencies he notices while watching game film.
He puts Eli to bed at 8 p.m. and is watching film by 8:05 p.m., Sarah said.
He is notorious for his conditioning drills in the preseason, which comes with plenty of groans from his athletes. He also preaches fundamentals and builds his teams toward becoming the tactical force they become by the time league play and postseason games come around.
He also makes the most out of the talent in Durango.
“His overall intensity and energy and his knowledge of the game and the skills of the game, it’s tremendous,” said former DHS boys basketball head coach Alan Batiste, who made Parker his top assistant two seasons ago and stepped down as head coach after the 2016-17 season. “He makes my job a lot easier being such a student of the game.
“We don’t have any McDonald’s All-Americans walking through our doors. You have to find ways to be successful. Our players bust their butt with Dalon in the offseason, and it makes a huge difference.”
Parker’s knowledge of the game endears him to his players, but it is also the passion he brings to every practice and every game that inspires them to play their best for him. While they may not love running in practice, they know their coach has their back when it comes to games.
“I’m so lucky to have a coach that knows so much about the game,” Floyd said. “More than that, his passion shows through in us, and I think that’s what wins us the games.
“All that passion we play with comes from him.”
Parker prides himself on winning with home-grown talent in Durango. The Demons rarely get transfers or foreign exchange students.
In a small mountain town like Durango, coaches work with what they have and try to squeeze every ounce of potential out of the athletes.
“It’s about their character, not their skill,” Parker said. “We’re building something more. Character causes us to win games, and we’ve built our foundation around that. We’re home grown, and we have to build something else other than wins and losses.”
‘I’m not leaving without a state championship’Parker believes the attention to building teams with high character directly translates to victories. His teams have shown steady improvement, and the legacy being built has filtered down to each class of student-athlete. He’s also enjoyed watching athletes carry those lessons from high school into college and adulthood.
“What we’ve built in four years, we haven’t taken a step backward,” he said.
“The consistency has been great. Coming here and seeing kids grow from little pups and mature and go live their lives with the lessons they’ve learned, it’s heart filling.”
Being a coach is everything Parker wants out of his professional career. When he interviewed at DHS five years ago, he said he wanted to coach for 20 or 25 years.
“This is what God has asked of me,” he said.
“This is my calling. I’m built to be a coach who is here for 20 or 25 years.”
Parker admits he does want to win. It drives those countless hours of preparation, even if he won’t let wins and losses determine the spirit of his teams.
“I want to bring a trophy here, a state championship, hang a banner in that dang gym,” he said.
“I need one. I see track and cross country, biking and skiing titles. I need a team one. I keep saying it, and the kids start to believe it.
“I’m not leaving here without a state championship.”