By Military Connection Staff Writer Joe Silva.
“I’m just a football coach,” Mark “Coach” Soto told Military Connection staff writer Joe Silva.
It is true that Coach Soto has been a football coach for 28 years. But there is more to Coach than his leadership on the gridiron. He is also the father of two combat Veterans, and the executive director/founder of The Honor Group.
During the recent interview, Silva asked Coach how he came up with the idea for the Honor Group. Coach said that he got the idea after his sons returned home from deployments. Coach says that it started at the post-deployment reunions.
“I watched those white buses roll up. I watched other families reuniting,” Coach said. “I watched the other service members, some wounded, missing limbs. I watched my own boys, and what they experienced after deployments. I had to do something.”
That “something” turned into The Honor Group, a non-profit organization that is touching hearts, breaking barriers and changing communities. The organization’s stated purpose is in educating communities, empowering Veterans, and equipping separating Veterans with resources outside of their standard issue transition package. Two of the primary functions of the Honor Group are the Honor Bowl and the Honor Tour.
The Honor Bowl is the largest high school football showcase on the West Coast. Coach Soto and other members of the Honor Group’s staff analyze high school football teams who have done well on the field and are active in their communities, and invite a select few to take part in the showcase. But don’t be confused, the Honor Bowl is not merely a football event.
“It’s not about football,” Coach Soto said. “It’s about touching the hearts of the community. It’s about INSPIRING people.”
After the invitations are sent out each year in March, Coach Soto hits the phones. Each invitation requires a series of calls to that school’s principal, athletic director and football coach. Coach Soto mentioned that he was once referred to as a “promoter.” He said that as a father of two combat Veterans, as a football coach, as a leader of a non-profit organization, and as a man of faith, he considered that to be a bit of an insult.
“I’m not a promoter,” Coach said. “I consider it more of a ministry.”
Ministry could be the best word to describe the Honor Tour. Of that previously mentioned series of phone calls, one call is to set up an Honor Week at each participating school. The Honor Week includes Honor Tour school assemblies. These assemblies are free to the schools, and they include an honor guard ceremony and a motivational speech from a wounded Veteran.
“It’s amazing to see room full of kids go silent,” Coach said. “They see a Veteran enter on prosthetic legs, and all conversations stop. The Veteran’s message or perseverance is important to kids of that age.”
Any school can request an Honor Tour school assembly. There is no charge to the school.
Money earned by the Honor Group, through their events and donations, goes directly to Veterans. The Honor group uses all proceeds to empower Veterans with the means to connect them to the resources that aid their transition into civilian life. Money also goes to providing Honor Chairs to Veterans who have lost limbs.
How you can help: Attend the Honor Bowl 2014 events on August 29-30th at Del Oro High School in Loomis, CA, or the September 5-6 event at Oceanside High School. You can also donate directly to the organization by visiting them on the web. Be sure to frequent their website over the next few weeks as Coach Soto promises that there is something “BIG” on the horizon.