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Rec Sports Spotlight: Luther 'very surprised' with honor

Eldersburg resident Tom Luther played a lot of sports as a young man.

"I played basketball right through high school. I also played football in high school and ran track in the spring," he said. "I played everything but soccer."

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So when he was named the Freedom Area Recreation Council's 2016 Volunteer of the Year this past October, can you guess the sport in which he made the name for himself?

Yep. Soccer.

He began as a volunteer when he coached his son Roger's Freedom rec basketball team. But Roger also played soccer so his dad starting coaching that sport, too.

His involvement in soccer grew when his daughter Beth became old enough to sign up for it. Around 2007, Luther took on the additional job as soccer coordinator for the teams in Beth's age group and subsequently assumed the coordinator's job for the different age groups as she moved through them.

Luther stayed with basketball coaching until his son dropped it after the fourth grade. Then he turned strictly to soccer, one sport he had never played.

He followed Beth along until she hit the eighth grade. Then, he took over her grades 7-8 age group. She dropped soccer in high school, but he still runs that grade 7-8 bracket today.

As coordinator, he works with registrations in May, organizes the teams over the summer, and then sets up schedules and looks for coaches before the fall season starts. He says he's been pretty successful getting coaching help.

"I've been lucky most of the time when I look. I usually have enough head coaches and assistant coaches," Luther said.

He has stayed on as a division coordinator even though both of his children attend Liberty High School and no longer play soccer. However they do come back and referee Freedom rec soccer games.

"They have stayed involved in the program, so I am staying on as a coordinator," Luther said.

Over the last couple of years, he has become a fixture at Freedom Park on Saturday game days where he also assumes a coordinator's role. He opens the sheds so coaches can get out the game equipment. He also ensures that referees are where they are scheduled to be and that they are paid. If a referee doesn't show up, he quickly arranges for a substitute. Luther also answers any questions that arise.

When the games are over, Luther helps pack up.

"He stays over at Freedom Park all day long and takes care of things. That is a tremendous help to me. It has been great to have someone who I can rely on over there," Freedom Soccer commissioner Susan Chaney said.

Chaney, who has been commissioner two years, says she relies on Luther heavily because she spends her own Saturdays running things at the Eldersburg Elementary School where another large part of the Freedom youth soccer program operates.

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While he never played soccer, Luther has nevertheless become something of an authority on the rules of the game, saying that, "I'm as well versed as most of the referees are."

He attends training sessions with the referees, and he keeps himself up to date on each year's rules changes.

Chaney explains why that expertise has been extremely important to the smooth operation of her program.

"Some of the referees are only ninth graders. He helps the young referees by showing them where to position themselves so they can make good calls. He is also very knowledgeable in the rules and can answer the questions referees have," she said.

Luther's volunteerism doesn't end with soccer. He has also played with the Joey D. Cares Rock Orchestra, a local group whose members vary from high school age through adult.

The band, which plays a mixture of rock and jazz tunes, does charity concerts and has raised as much as $20,000 for the Wounded Warriors program.

An unsuspecting Tom Luther got a surprising notification just before last fall's Volunteer of the Year event.

"Sue Chaney put my name in, and I had no idea until I got an email about two days before, telling me to be there. I asked, 'do you have the right person?' When I heard, 'yes,' my reaction was stunned silence," Luther said.

"I was very surprised. It was a big honor. It's nice to get the recognition, but that's not why I do this."

Luther says he'll definitely be back this fall at his usual post in Freedom Park. However Luther is uncertain about his long-term plans as a soccer volunteer, although he says he might like to try coaching basketball again at some point.

"I know some people [volunteer] for 20 or 30 years. I don't know if that's me right now," he said.

However, whatever the future brings, Chaney feels she made a good choice this past fall.

"I nominated him because he gives so much of his time to the kids and the community," Chaney said. "That's what we are all there for."

410-857-7896

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