Champion of soccer scene in Hampton Roads dies at 77

VIRGINIA BEACH

If Dick Whalen was calling, it was a good idea to hold the phone at arm's length.

The man had a booming voice — and no need for a microphone when addressing a crowd.

"I remember getting grounded because of how much he yelled at my games from the sidelines, and I'd yell back at him," said his son, Matt Whalen. "The whole stadium could hear him. But when I yelled back at him, he'd ground me.

"Let's just say he was always passionate."

Dick Whalen died Aug. 13 after complications caused by melanoma. He leaves a legacy as a driving force in the South Hampton Roads soccer community. He was 77.

In 1994, Whalen brought to reality the idea of a sand soccer competition at the Oceanfront. This summer, the North American Sand Soccer Championships held its 26th annual event. It's now the largest sand soccer tournament in the world, drawing teams from all corners of the planet to its professional division.

"There's nothing like it," said Matt, who played soccer at Cox High School and Virginia Tech, and now holds the reins of the local tournament. "It's not even close. I'm really hoping I can continue his legacy with this event because my dad was known all over the world of sand soccer."

Dick Whalen first became involved in soccer after watching his sons play for club teams and at their high schools. His support became an unrivaled passion.

He literally shed light on the sport.

Kevin Denson, a former coach at Kempsville and First Colonial, remembers how in the mid-1980s the soccer teams played their games at 4 in the afternoon. Then Whalen got organized, and got people to join his Parent's Soccer Association of Virginia Beach.

"They went to the School Board and told them, " 'we can produce revenue' if we play under the lights," said Denson, who now coaches at Norfolk Academy.

"The next year we were playing under the lights."

Former Cox coach Jim Snodgrass called it a serious upgrade for local soccer.

"It made it more exciting and it brought more people out to watch. It required enormous time and energy and commitment by him. And I think because of that it got more people playing."

Whalen also played a major role in the building the Hampton Roads Soccer Council's 75-acre soccer complex in Virginia Beach. The sand soccer tournament has raised millions of dollars for the project.

"Those kids and parents who spend their time on some of the best fields there are, they can thank my dad for that," Matt said.

Whalen's organizational skills likely were a result of his long service in the Navy. After graduating from Maury High School in Norfolk, he went on to the United States Naval Academy, graduating in 1963. He retired as a captain 30 years later, becoming Old Dominion University's first director of military activities in 1993.

What many don't know about Whalen is that he was a self-taught maritime artist, earning national acclaim for his work and for Seaman's Eye Marine Art — a forum where he shared his pieces.

The family is asking that, in lieu of flowers, any donations be made to the Dick Whalen Memorial Fund with the Hampton Roads Soccer Council.

"He's going to be sorely missed by the soccer community," Denson said.

A visitation will be held from 6-8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6, at Holloman-Brown Funeral Great Neck Chapel, followed by a celebration of life at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, at First Presbyterian Church in Virginia Beach.

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