Friday September 30, 2011Burleigh's impact on UF soccer program also revealed on Alumni Weekend
Updated: 10:14am, September 30
Updated: 10:14am, September 30
Former Gators soccer player Melissa Pini Parham has a 2-year-old and twins on the way, but don’t expect that to keep her from the UF Soccer Alumni Weekend.
The event has become too important to her over the years.
“A lot of the girls I played with always come back,’’ said Pini Parham, who lives in South Florida. “The soccer team was definitely like a family.’’
Pini Parham played on UF’s first team in 1995 and helped the Gators win the 1998 national title in only the program’s fourth season, amassing 60 goals and 40 assists during her four-year career.
As the program matured, Florida head coach Becky Burleigh created an Alumni Weekend for former players to return to campus and have a chance to meet the current team and catch up with old friends. It has been a huge success and something that Burleigh, the only head coach in the program’s history, sees as an important part of the program.
“The alumni here at UF is just a really special thing that I don’t think a lot of schools have,’’ Burleigh said. “The former players are so interested in what the current team is doing that the current team feels an obligation to not just the team that’s here, but to everyone that’s worn a Gator jersey before them. That’s just such an unbelievable situation that we’re in.’’
As of Friday, more than 30 former players and two former staff members were scheduled to return to Gainesville for the weekend. They will attend Florida’s home match against Vanderbilt on Friday night and many will attend Saturday’s football game against Alabama.
They’ll also tell stories, share family photos and spend time with their former coach.
Burleigh’s dedication to the program and the family atmosphere she has built around her teams over the years remains at the forefront of why so many former players return.
“She has a huge role,’’ Pini Parharm said. “If it wasn’t for Becky and Vic [associate head coach Vic Campbell], I think we would still go back to watch a soccer game or to see a football game, but I don’t know how involved we would be with the team.
“Every time that she throws the Alumni Weekend, she tries to throw something in where we get to meet with the current players. She is just part of the family now. It has a lot to do with Becky and all the stuff she does.’’
Burleigh’s strong connection to her former players was on display earlier this month when former Gators Abby Wambach and Heather Mitts, both members of the Women’s World Cup team that made headlines in Germany over the summer, returned for a game and talked with the team.
On a recent road trip to Missouri, the current Gators got to watch Wambach and Mitts play for the U.S. in a match against Canada, which featured former Gators standout Melanie Booth. The players mingled with the former Gators much like the way those in town for the Alumni Weekend will.
“It’s great when our alumni come back,’’ Burleigh said.
Pini Parham rattled off the names of some of those she is excited about seeing this weekend, including former UF roommates and teammates Sarah Yohe Cohen and Angie Olson Densberger. She said former teammate Danielle Bass is making the trip from Chicago.
Pini Parham said her reason for returning year after year is simple.
“It was like the best time of my life,’’ she said. “I made so many awesome friends that I’m still friends with. I had a great time and soccer was probably 75 percent of my college experience and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.’’
Here are those scheduled to attend:
Gator Soccer Alumni
Lo, Elsie (Trainer)
Joyce, Kevin (Manager)