Soccer: Local teams deserve high praise for scoring 2020’s most important goal

Remember in Little League when everyone got a trophy – this year is a little like that. Everyone who played varsity soccer for the local teams this past season certainly deserves high praise and gratitude for accomplishing the biggest goal in 2020 –following safety protocols and keeping everyone safe.

It was just over a month ago that the season was in jeopardy of even getting played, and there were plenty of doubts whether it could be pulled off and plenty of folks who felt it wasn’t worth it. Anyone who watched these young men compete in varsity soccer this past season knows it was well worth it.   

“It was scary; it was nerve-racking,” admitted Skyline head coach Chris Morgan. “We were filled with doubt because we didn’t know if we were going to have a season. You’re hopeful, but at the same time, you never know if the MHSAA or the AAPS is going to say no.”

Morgan was proud to see his team come together and rise above the uncertainty to perform at the highest level. The Eagles reached the District finals before losing to Saline.

“I think all of those days of unknowing created angst, but it also brought us together,” Morgan said. “That was one of the things that we shared with this group, that common bond: ‘we got one more day boys, and this is awesome.’”

Pioneer head coach Jon Sundermann said having a season was important for a number of different reasons, including a social connection that we as humans crave and need.

“Fortunately, it was able to be done the safest way possible based on what was known at the time – masks, distance, outdoors, sanitize,” says Sundermann. “We had some of the most consistent, high number turnouts during the summer sessions as I think the kids were looking for that outlet.”

And it was always more than just kicking a ball around and scoring goals. The 2020 season was so much more than playing a game. “It provided an opportunity to have frank and honest discussions about personal – and group – responsibility in order to give ourselves the best possible chance at a season,” Sundermann said. “I think it also brought a different, more visceral sense of camaraderie that we were all in it together and what a privilege/gift it was that we had this opportunity.”

That was noticeable on the pitch. While teams still played with emotion, intensity and the desire to win, there was a remarkable sense of respect on the pitch. Opposing players didn’t hesitate to offer a hand to help someone up off the ground or avoid unnecessary hard tackles or cheap shots.

The coaches pass the credit for this increased sportsmanship to their captains and senior class. Both Skyline and Pioneer featured 17 seniors on this year’s roster.

“They’re just a quality group, and it’s more than just the soccer,” Morgan said of his senior class. “It’s how they handled themselves, how they represented themselves and were models for the underclassmen. I could always trust these kids because they have great heads on their shoulders.”

Huron head coach Luis Gomez echoed his peer’s comments.

“The silver lining in all of this is that these players got a chance to participate with their friends and compete against other schools,” Gomez said. “I’m happy to live and work in a school district (AAPS) that prioritized safety over anything else and glad none of our families in the program were affected by the virus.”

Sundermann gives a lot of credit to all the young men and their families for figuring a way through this difficult but rewarding season. “I have a special, heartfelt gratitude for the way our seniors handled themselves throughout this season,” he said. “They consistently showed up, put in the effort, and led by example. Not only on the field but also all the intangibles – being on time, respect for one another – and the opponent when we finally got to play, hard work, safety protocols, and perhaps most importantly, recognizing and respecting the things that needed to be done in order to have a chance at a season.

“I can’t say enough about high quality of character of the young men leaving our program this year – they really exemplify what it means to be leaders and Pioneers.”

Everyone were pioneers this season. This group was the first to face challenges never seen before in high school athletics. And they all deserve a trophy for behaving and acting like winners.

Matthew Bartow contributed to this story