March 30, 2017
Alums Celebrate 25 Years with Seacoast United
For West Virginia Wesleyan College alums Paul Willis ’88, Ian Burgess MBA ’94, and Dave Burgess ’97, MBA ’99, soccer is more than just a sport; it is a way of life. The England-born trio are now celebrating a quarter of a decade with Seacoast United, a small New Hampshire soccer club turned successful athletic organization of the region.
Founded in 1992 with the simple mission to advance the physical and social wellbeing of kids and adults through competitive soccer, Seacoast United has grown exponentially ever since. Now, Seacoast United offers youth teams not only in soccer, but also field hockey, baseball, and softball. Two teams have evolved into year-round clubs in three states offering opportunities to athletes in four different sports. In addition, they have expanded to own and operate several world-class indoor and outdoor venues.
Willis, a physical education major and business minor originally of Newcastle Upon Tyne, England, represented Wesleyan as the associate director of admission for the New England states and then moved to New Hampshire in 1990. Wanting to provide kids with a better opportunity to play soccer and try to grow the sport in the area, Willis got together with Mike Noonan, former University of New Hampshire men’s soccer coach and current Clemson University men’s soccer coach, to figure out how to create programming in the area.
“We began with Youth-14 and Youth-16 competitive boys’ teams in 1992,” stated Willis. “Between 1992 and 1995, we grew from two boys’ teams to five boys’ teams. After a few career shifts, I got this crazy notion to go full-time with Seacoast United and see what could happen if someone was to devote their full attention to the Club. That is how it all began in terms of growth.”
Willis, now the president and chief executive officer of Seacoast United, called on other Wesleyan alumni to be a part of the ever-growing organization. Ian, who completed his MBA at Wesleyan after studying electrical engineering and industrial management in the UK, joined Willis at Seacoast in August 1997 and currently serves as chief operations officer for the organization. In November of that year, Seacoast United opened their first indoor facility in Hampton, NH. Dave, who majored in business administration and computer information science at Wesleyan before graduating with his MBA, came on board in 1999, currently serving as the director of facilities and operations, and the England-trio has worked the business into tremendous growth ever since.
Seacoast United now features eight soccer clubs across New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maine, as well as baseball, field hockey, and softball clubs, and operates 10 athletic facilities across those states. Partnered with English Professional Club Brighton & Hove Albion, Seacoast now employs over 50 full-time staff and hundreds of part-time staff members.
Each year, the Club continues to grow, and 2017 marks 25 years, a testament to the hard work and dedication of this trio of athletes.
“Approximately 5,000 players wear a Seacoast United Soccer Club jersey of some sort, from Junior Academy to all the various teams across New England,” stated Willis. “In addition to this, we have all kinds of recreational leagues for children and adults, developmental programs, and camps with over 20,000 individuals and families connected to Seacoast United.”
One of Seacoast United’s biggest accomplishments is that the Club has helped develop players in all divisions on both the men’s and women’s side, including National Championship teams. Seacoast also had representatives on the USA men’s national team and is one of the founding member clubs in the U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy. Seacoast has also helped develop players at all division levels for field hockey and baseball, even though these programs are younger.
The England trio credits Wesleyan’s faculty and staff for helping them gain solid footing and build careers this side of the pond.
“The presentations and research required for the MBA program at Wesleyan was instrumental in giving me confidence to take on new business challenges,” stated Ian. “The accounting courses, marketing, and research have been a wonderful foundation to the early success and growth of Seacoast United.”
Dave agrees, also stating the people he met at Wesleyan to have a tremendous impact on him.
“Moving to a new country and starting college was a very daunting prospect, but within a few days, the nervousness settled very quickly, and I knew this would be a great move and a wonderful experience,” Dave said. “Having great people like Dr. John Saunders and Alice Leigh Creasman showed me that the faculty at Wesleyan cared and wanted me to succeed. Gavin Donaldson, head soccer coach, gave me my first experience of working soccer camps and helping develop the local children’s athletic abilities. These people, along with many others, helped not only my college experience but also shaped my personality in dealing with adults and children alike.”
Willis also believes the experiences and people he encountered at Wesleyan were invaluable but also names his educational opportunities as a great factor in his success today.
“Wesleyan gave me the confidence to try things and believe in myself,” commented Willis. “During my college years, I completed several internships and many independent studies during J-Term, all due to the willingness of Dr. John Saunders, Alice Leigh Creasman, and others who helped me learn and gain valuable experiences. Equally, during my seven years in the Admissions Office, I learned a great deal from people such as Tom Courtice, Dave Thomas, John Fluke, and Bob Skinner.”
“These three outstanding graduates took full advantage of the opportunities Wesleyan offers,” commented Alice Leigh Creasman, registrar. “I am not at all surprised by their success; they pursued their dreams and worked hard to attain them in academics, in athletics, in work, and in life.”
In the next five to 10 years, Seacoast United plans to continue to solidify their position within the club sports area in the New England area, as well as further their partnership with Brighton & Hove Albion, as well as Nike, with whom they have worked for the past 21 years. They will also build a 60,000-square-foot indoor area at the site of the Club’s outdoor complex, scheduled to open in October of this year. Plans to add additional athletic fields, including baseball and softball, are in the works for the 150-acre site located in Epping, NH. Talks of expanding Amesbury Sports Park in Massachusetts and a Maine facility are also in the process, and Seacoast has already begun to expand its partnerships with local lacrosse, rugby, and cricket organizations.
Willis is married to 1987 graduate Molly Simmons of Morgantown, WV, and Ian Burgess is married to 1993 graduate Laura Malessa of Riverton, NJ.
For more information on Seacoast United, please visit www.seacoastunited.com.
Cutline: Pictured at their Hampton, NH Indoor Arena facility are (l-r) David Burgess, Paul Willis, and Ian Burgess.
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