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Dunn 'a mainstay' of Hall County soccer
Longtime coach has won combined 307 games with Johnson boys, Chestatee girls
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Chestatee coach Mark Dunn is retiring after 34 years coaching soccer in Hall County, 41 years in education and more than 300 wins. He is also the school's graduation coach and cross country coach. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Mark Dunn by the numbers

Seasons: 34

Total playoff appearances: 14 (8 with Johnson boys, 6 with Chestatee girls)

Overall record: 307-209-31

Chestatee girls record: 106-72-8

Johnson boys record: 201-137-23

Mark Dunn has been a high school soccer head coach in Hall County for 34 seasons. He’s won 307 games.

Dunn was also a co-founder and previously vice president for Georgia Mountains Soccer Association, now known as Lanier Soccer Association.

But Dunn takes the most pride in seeing his former players continuing in the sport, as officials or coaches, and in how much soccer has taken off in the county.

“It’s a good feeling that you were a part of something at the beginning of it,” Dunn said. “And now it’s growing.”

Dunn, who is now the girls soccer coach, cross country coach and graduation coach at Chestatee, is retiring at the end of this school year. He is finishing off a 41-year career in education.

“I guess there are no more hats to wear,” Dunn said.

His wife, Claire, retired last year.

Dunn coached the Johnson boys from 1982 through 2005, reaching the state semifinals his final two seasons in Oakwood.

Philip Chittaro, now Lakeview Academy’s boys head coach, played for Dunn at Johnson from 1999-2002 and stuck with the sport. The Knights program reached the Class AAAA finals in 2014, and Chittaro’s Lions faced state-ranked Johnson earlier this season.

“The biggest thing he’s done is made that program what it is today,” Chittaro said. “I think most of the players that played for him feel the same way.”

This is Dunn’s 10th season leading the Chestatee girls program, and the sixth in which he has taken the Lady War Eagles to the postseason. Chestatee (12-6, 6-2) will be the No. 2 seed from Region 8 in the upcoming Class AAAA playoffs.

Dunn can still clearly remember his early days in Hall County, when his Johnson team played at the old South Hall field with no bleachers. Parents who knew each other came to watch the soccer and to socialize.

Johnson and Gainesville were the only teams in the county with teams that played at the same time of year when Dunn took over the Knights’ program for the 1982 season. Dunn fondly recalls playing against the Red Elephants, then coached by Gene Beckstein, who would later found Good News at Noon.

One of Gainesville’s players from 1984-87, before there was a separate girls team, was Shelly Garner. The former Lady Red Elephants player is in her fourth season as a Chestatee assistant coach for Dunn.

“He’s never been much of one of those screaming coaches. He’s always been a very laid-back, very casual coach. He’s always been known to just be very well-respected and a very calming and soothing factor,” Garner said. “He’s always developed great teams, though. No matter what, he has just a way of motivating and developing really good teams.”

Dunn also formed a friendly rivalry with Wolfgang Jager, who coached with him before moving down the road to lead West Hall’s program.

Daughters Katie and Elizabeth played for their father in select soccer until high school. Katie Dunn also got to watch him in action with his school teams. She marveled at his ability to communicate with players.

“What always stood out to me is his patience as a coach,” Katie Dunn said. “Coaches have different ways of coaching. His was calm. That always helped get his point across.”

His patience and investment in soccer through LSA began to pay off with Johnson’s first playoff appearance in 1992, one of his eight postseason trips with the Knights.

Dunn’s Johnson teams won region titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002 and finished as region runner-up in 1992, 1999, 2003, 2004 and 2005 while developing a pipeline of strong goalkeepers and a solid program overall.

He earned his 300th coaching victory, as the Chestatee girls won 7-0 at home against East Hall, on March 14.

Dunn started his coaching career at Miami Springs (Fla.) Junior High. One of his students there, Mike Little, now is the director for Hall County Parks & Leisure.

In his fourth and final season of coaching cross country at Chestatee, Dunn’s group pulled a surprise by beating out a couple of highly-regarded teams to reach state in the fall of 2014. His War Eagles cross country teams won two region championships and made it to state three times. When he coached cross country at Johnson, he helped start the Hall County cross country championships.

Dunn was also a part of starting the Middle School Cup for soccer while at Johnson.

Wes Williams, a former player for Dunn at Johnson, is now a high-profile referee in the sport.

Chittaro said it makes sense why multiple former players stayed in the game.

“He held us to high expectations,” Chittaro said. “That allowed us to go forth and be successful in what we’re doing now.”

Katie Dunn has always known her father as a coach.

“It’s going to be weird to not have him running off to games and practices because that’s been his life,” she said. “I think he’ll stay involved in some way. I don’t think he’ll be able to give it up.”

Even with Dunn’s retirement, Garner knows his impact remains.

“You think soccer in this particular area, he’s been a mainstay and probably a good, large reason why soccer has become so big in this area,” Garner said.

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