Selected as a 2019 Semper Fidelis All-American, rising Huntingtown High school senior Darrien Coates had the opportunity to attend the program’s Battles Won Academy July 11 to 15 in Washington, D.C. and came away from the experience with a key theme in mind.
“I learned that everyone has a fighting spirit and everyone has a story, and everyone’s story is worth something,” he said. “No matter what they’ve been through, no matter how big or how small or the duration of it, everyone has a story and everyone’s story is worth hearing. I feel like if you really take the time to listen to somebody you can take at least one thing from their story and apply it to your life to make it better.”
Coates, who plays soccer for the Hurricanes, has his own story, as well. When he was young, a car accident paralyzed his father. The experience was obviously traumatic, but also was something Coates learned to deal with in positive ways as he aged.
“Growing up as a young kid, people would always ask the question, ‘What happened to your dad?’ I faced a lot of skepticism and felt like I was very angry,” Coates said. “But as I got older and matured I realized that he was still my father. It didn’t make him any less my father, any less of a man, any less of a person. He’s still an amazing human being and I love him no matter what. It took me to personally accept some things for myself and kind of tune out some other people and any negative vibes or comments and just accept some things for myself and declare personally that I wasn’t going to let that change how I wanted to be as a person.”
Selected as one of approximately 100 All-Americans from across the nation for attributes that reflect the Marine Corps’ values of honor, courage and commitment, Coates took part in a variety of events during the academy.
The first day the group traveled to Marine Corps Base Quantico to work through an obstacle course and assorted other activities, while they later toured the National Museum of the Marine Corps and also went through Washington, D.C. in their groups. Coates was the only local in his group, which allowed him to play a tour guide of sorts.
“No one was really as close to D.C. as I was, so that was pretty cool because I kind of see it very often,” he said. “It was nice to see other people’s reactions to The White House and the different monuments and just the atmosphere of D.C. Sometimes I can see how I take it for granted because I’m so close to D.C. That was really cool to experience. It kind of showed them D.C. through my eyes and sort of what I’ve experienced.”
The next day the group traveled to American University where the national wrestling team was waiting.
“We were with them for a good amount of time in the morning. Then we had a BMX show,” Coates said. “I’ve never wrestled before, but after that I kind of want to try it out. It was nice to branch out.”
Also part of the day, the groups put together bicycles that were then donated to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, D.C.
“Each group built two bicycles,” Coates said. “The kids actually came to pick them up. We were all lined up and made signs for each of them. ... They brought the kids in and surprised the kids. Just to see the looks on their faces was amazing. It was definitely something that touched my heart.”
The group also toured the National Archives museum and had a morning workout with two-time Olympic gold medalist Ashton Eaton, who was the second man ever to break the 9,000-point barrier in the decathlon.
“We had a morning wake-up and workout with Ash Eaton, which was amazing,” Coates said. “He’s literally an Olympic champion and he’s just walking around. We got to talk with him and take pictures with him. He took us through one of the workouts he would do for a decathlon, just for about 10-15 minutes. Then we did a scavenger hunt through the National Mall.”
At the end of the academy, the All-Americans attended a banquet in which ESPN personality Sage Steele, San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon and James Conner of the Pittsburgh Steelers were in attendance.
“The three of them had kind of an interview session and we were able to learn about the challenges and tribulations Ms. Hammon and Mr. Conner had to face,” Coates said. “It was really inspiring to hear their stories and how they overcame their battles.”
The participants also had the opportunity to listen to and get to know each other over the course of the academy.
“When you’re there with individuals from all over the nation, you hear other people’s stories. It’s just so neat to be able to learn from other people,” Coates said. “You kind of pick apart and analyze what this person went through and what this person went through and how they overcame it. In the end, it helps you because you know if all these other people can do it, then you can, too. ... In the future, if I go through a tough time, I can pull from literally anybody that I met then and inspire myself based on their story. The atmosphere was insane.”
Coates hopes to be able to share some of the positivity he experienced with the people he encounters on a daily basis.
“I want to bring that to the community,” he said. “I feel it can help out so much, especially with high school sports and the high school community. Sadly there are certain stereotypes and factions and differing groups, but if I can bring the atmosphere that I experienced there to Huntingtown, which is ultimately what I would love to do, I can’t even imagine what would happen.
“It was definitely a life-changing experience to say the least. I’m so grateful and so blessed for the experience and the opportunity that I was given.”
Leading on the pitch
Coates has been on Huntingtown’s boys soccer varsity team since his freshman year, and while that distinction is often evidence of an athlete’s ability in his case it was about much more than that, according to Hurricanes head coach Charlie Russell.
“Obviously he has to be a solid athlete or he wouldn’t be on varsity since he was a freshman, but it’s the character traits that really kind of separated him and gave him a lot of opportunities and really helped the team,” Russell said of Coates, who has primarily been a defender for the Hurricanes in his career. “From a very young age he’s had a lot of leadership characteristics. He’s so mature for his age, so beyond his years with respect to how he deals with people. It helped him through situations better than a lot of adults, quite honestly. He’s been doing that for a while, every year gets a little bit better. I think that helps our team more than his playing ability.”
In his own journey, soccer has often been something that provided Coates with a great deal of solace. And while he hopes to be able to continue his own career at the collegiate level, with the start of his senior year approaching he is focused on enjoying his final high school season and being the best teammate he can be.
“Soccer, I can’t put into words what it means to me,” he said. “Right now it’s just a release. Whenever I have an issue or I just feel super stressed-out, you can find me on a soccer field. I don’t have to be doing anything rigorous, it could just be touching the ball and dribbling around a little bit. I could even just, in my room sometimes, dribble around and it just releases a lot of stress or confusion or anger, whatever I’m feeling. It’s the greatest release for me, and I truly love the sport so much. ... I’m definitely going to enjoy my last season at Huntingtown this year.
“I feel like I’m a really good leader. I like to see people flourish and learn new things about themselves, and I like to see people learning things about themselves that they didn’t know they could achieve, whether that’s mentally or physically. Helping people do that is the greatest reward for me.”