Club shooting to kickstart soccer at Southridge

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

In the late-afternoon sun Monday, Ryan Wallace stood beside his soccer team’s practice field — a somewhat estranged grassland between the tennis courts and football field at Southridge High School.

Friday nights, the field is used for game-day parking. This day, it hosts 27 kids, boys and girls, from middle school and high school, some of whom don the jerseys of Argentina, Mexico, AC Milan and various Raider sports teams.

There are two lackluster goals with nets attached and a third, smaller goal frame that rests to the side of the field, which has no sidelines. The field’s grass is patchy.

Antonio Rodriguez and Ricardo Ariza are among the half-dozen or so high-schoolers who remain after the day’s practice concluded. After 90 minutes of training, Ariza and a few others pelt shots at Rodriguez, who stands in goal.

The boys are special to Wallace.

“These kids have a place in my heart because they’re out here (every day) and we haven’t played a game,” he says.

Not yet, but soon.

When Wallace arrived at Southridge as a teacher five years ago, he began asking about a soccer program. Within two years, he helped initiate a Southridge Middle School club team. And with that team now in its third season, the first step has been taken toward bringing the sport to the high school.

In August, the Southwest Dubois School Board approved a memorandum submitted to install a boys soccer program at Southridge. The proposal, written by Huntingburg Parks board member Mande Kuesch, followed the plan put forth by Forest Park when it began its football program in the mid-aughts.

Starting next fall, Southridge will have a boys club soccer team, which will compete against junior varsity squads from the area, Wallace says. After two years at that level, the club will present its case in front of the school board in hopes of being accepted as a varsity program under the umbrella of the athletic department.

For now, however, the program will be self-sustained — from transportation to fields, from uniforms to referees. If it becomes a school-sanctioned team — which is anything but a certainty — it will receive funding. Until then, it’s up to the team to gather the money.

“Funding is tough,” says Wallace, a 2002 Princeton High School graduate. “And that’s one thing that puts you down as a coach is seeing all the stuff that it takes.”

Next year’s high school team will follow a similar financial plan as the middle school team has this year, the coach says. Within it, each player had to pay $100 to help offset expenses.

The cost is one thing, the logistics present another issue.

Without buses, Wallace, assistant coach Joel Dubon and available parents drive kids to games. Often, Wallace sends a text message to parents around noon on game days once he finds out how many kids still need rides. Twice during the team’s dozen games thus far, a parent who works as a bus driver gave the team a lift.

“That is the craziness of it,” says Wallace, who anticipates the same system being used for the high school team next year. “But, we went 10-2.”

The saving grace. Apart from the managerial strain, the team has done well. After struggling in Year One — “I think we won two games,” Wallace recalls with a chuckle — the middle school team compiled an 8-4 record last season and had already upped its win total by two before starting a tournament on Thursday.

As Wallace explains, the chances of the school board awarding the boys team varsity status comes down to two primary factors: a successful middle school program and a sturdy booster club.

He feels they’ve got both. The record speaks for itself. And the booster club, currently consisting of five people, helped set up a concession stand at the team’s four home games — played at Huntingburg City Park — and organized a fundraiser with Chicago’s Pizza in French Lick.

While Southridge offers other club sports, like bowling, soccer would be the first to progress to varsity in at least the last 15 years, SHS athletic director Brett Bardwell says.

Yet factors beyond success and internal support must also be considered before the decision is made, Bardwell acknowledges.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s soccer or lacrosse or any sport that it might be,” Bardwell says, “you have to move slowly and look at all the specifics and look at the impact it would have not only on that particular sport added but the impact on the athletic department overall, both financially and the number of kids it’s going to impact.”

Wallace says he’s heard concerns about the effect adding another sport would have on a school Southridge’s size. Soccer would become the fourth boys fall sport offered at the school of 531 students. In spite of that, he says he doesn’t see it as an issue.

Conversely, he sees the team as an opportunity for soccer players that hasn’t been available prior — particularly those in the Hispanic community, which now accounts for about a fifth of Huntingburg’s population, according to census data.

Ariza, a junior who moved to Huntingburg five years ago, recalls playing soccer in his impoverished hometown of Zaragoza, El Salvador. No one owned cleats or a ball, so they kicked around “anything you could find,” he says.

Without a middle school team for him to play on once he arrived, he joined the primarily Hispanic weekend league held on Farbest Foods’ campus, as well as pickup games with friends. Rodriguez has played in the weekend league, too.

The focus now is finding kids to commit. Wallace had 33 kids sign up for soccer this year, though only 23 actually showed up in August. That number has since dwindled to about 15.

“The excitement is growing, but considering our team isn’t really intact, we aren’t really communicating very much,” says Rodriguez, a sophomore.

Adds Ariza: “We just need more players. We’re working hard to get better and better for next year.”

Once the middle school season concludes, Wallace plans to meet with the boosters to find out how much money was accrued through fundraising ventures. After that, he’ll begin formulating a budget and contacting potential opponents and filling out the high school team’s schedule next fall.

Rodriguez, who played football through his freshman year, explains the soccer team’s impact can be translated in simple terms: It fulfills a passion.

“When I played football, I noticed a lot of kids, they put a lot of heart into it. It was something they loved,” Rodriguez says. “And for soccer, that’s something I love, too. I love being out here and playing the game.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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