Lee Horton discovered soccer on a whim.
More than 40 years later, the sport has become much more than a way for him to stay in shape for basketball season.
After being an All-American goalkeeper and an all-state center-midfielder at Raleigh’s Ravenscroft School and going on to play for the North Carolina Tar Heels, he’s had a Hall-of-Fame coaching career. Horton won his 900th game on March 5, when his Charlotte Latin girls’ soccer team defeated Comenius School (S.C.) 9-0.
“It shows that I’m kind of old,” he said about the milestone, “and that I’ve had some great players.”
During Horton’s first two years in Chapel Hill, coaching never crossed his mind. He intended to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a dentist.
“But I realized that’s not what I wanted to do,” said Horton. “I was doing it for him instead of for myself.”
Horton, 57, was inspired to get into coaching by his soccer mentors, UNC coaches Marvin Allen and Anson Dorrance and especially Ravenscroft coach Bill Holleman.
“He really had a tremendous impact on my life,” said Horton. “I decided if I could go and do that to others, impact other kids the way he impacted me, that’s what I wanted to do.”
Horton changed his major to physical education and soon after graduating from UNC in 1978 began his coaching career at Wilson’s Greenfield School. In his five years at the helm of the school’s boys’ and girls’ soccer teams, he had a 140-34-21 record.
After earning a master’s degree in physical education from Campbell, Horton’s next stop, Charlotte Latin, became his home. He’s been in charge of the Hawks’ soccer teams for 28 years.
During his long tenure, he’s accrued a 761-221-85 record while leading the boys to seven state titles and the girls to eight, including the last five N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A championships.
“I never imagined something like that,” said Horton, looking back at his career.
Horton, who was inducted into the N.C. Soccer Hall of Fame in 2007, said he looks to use the sport to teach his players discipline and other lessons that can be related to everyday life.
“But the No.1 focus for me is that the kids know that I care about them,” he said.
Charlotte Latin senior Ashley Finke thinks her coach has been successful because of that ability to relate to his players.
“I think of him as almost like a third parent,” she said. “I know that I can come to him with absolutely anything.”
Horton, who has also coached the Charlotte Lady Eagles since their inception in 2000, tries to use his passion for the sport to motivate his players.
“I’m very competitive,” he said. “That comes out in the way I coach. ... I think they feed off of my excitement.”
Enthusiasm is running high at Latin. The Lady Hawks, ranked No. 1 in the state among 3A private schools, hope to build off their strong 4-0 start.
Led by its returning all-state forward, Finke, Latin has had a boost from junior defender Cannon Clough and sophomore forward Lily Kelly.
Ellie Sheild, Rebecca Jones, Mackenzie Jones and Perry Zollicoffer also play key roles for the Hawks.
Finke said Latin’s depth is a testament to Horton’s team-oriented style of play.
“He includes every player on the team, makes them feel like each of them has a role to play,” said Finke.
Horton said he’s thankful for his players’ dedication and for his opportunity to coach them.
“I count my blessings every day,” said Horton. “I’m happy every day because I love what I do.”