SHJH launches soccer program to feed high school programs

Scott Swanson

When school district administrators decided this year to add soccer to the list of sports offered by Sweet Home Junior High, the goal was to build a program that would feed the high school’s programs, which have struggled in the powerful Oregon West Conference.

With two games left this week, it’s been a good inaugural season, coaches say.

Junior high soccer is not entirely new in Sweet Home. There have been previous club-type junior high teams, including both boys and girls who were coached beginning in 2007 by Lela Danforth, who saw the need for a feeder program to develop skills prior to high school. Cross-country has been in a similar situation, without district support, but coached by teacher John Mithen as a club team when there have been students interested in running.

This year parents Laura Parrish, Melissa Klumph and Satina Tolman convinced district officials to start an official program. Sasha Savre and Rachel Markell were hired as coaches.

It hasn’t been ideal, but it’s a start, those involved say.

Junior High Athletic Director Mark Looney noted that, due to construction at the school, there are no on-campus facilities, which means all games have been on the road and the Tigers practice at the bottom of the “Junior High Hill,” at the south end of the high school track and field facilities.

Since the turnout from junior high boys was a little less than hoped for, the program has been extended to sixth-graders to get 13 players, which is needed to field a team, he said.

“We have a lot more girls than boys.”

Nonetheless, the boys are doing well, for a first-year program.

“This team exceeded my expectations,” Savre said. They’re 1-5-2, but two losses were “really close” – 7-6, 7-5, Savre said.

The Tigers beat Talmadge, a feeder school for 5A-Division Central, 9-2 and tied the Woodburn seventh-graders 2-2 and Stayton 3-3.

“Overall, I’m really pleased,” he said, noting that the high school teams from those communities have steamrolled Sweet Home’s high schoolers.

He said most of the goals in a 6-1 loss to the Woodburn eighth-graders were due to “defensive mistakes.”

He said his players have faced challenges with inconsistent officiating and rough play from some opponents, but it’s been a good experience overall.

The girls have 17 players, five of them eighth-graders and four brand new to soccer, said Markell, who coached for five years in AYSO before taking the Tigers’ helm.

Though she didn’t play soccer herself, her two daughters, who both play on the junior high team, love the game and played with AYSO teams.

“I volunteered when the girls were young and stuck with them as they progressed,” Markell said.

They beat Forest Grove and their season-opening loss, at Talmadge, was close, at 0-1. 

“We’ve played some amazing teams and our girls have shown a lot of heart in their never-give-up- attitude,” she said. “All of our games have been away this season. It’s made for a lot of travel and some tired players. They girls have done a good job keeping up their grades and staying eligible to play.”

She noted that Chad Duncan has been volunteering as an assistant coach all season.

“He has done a great job. He is a very positive guy who encourages the girls and works well with them.”

Savre said he knew what he was getting into because he’s known the “core” of his junior high team as they’ve moved up the ranks through AYSO.

His wife Loretta and he, he said, “have been involved with AYSO for many years.”

His two oldest sons, Colton and Landon, have been playing AYSO soccer for six or seven years, which is how he’s become familiar with their teammates.

He said he supported the formation of a junior high program because “it’s really hard to coach a team that has zero experience” at the high school level.

“This is a good base to build up on.”

About 40 percent of his players were experienced. The rest were “brand new” to soccer.

Looney said the formation of the soccer program did not really impact football at all, though volleyball “took a little hit” at the junior high.

“It’s been an improvement to our program,” he said. “It’s been beneficial.”

Savre, who said he once tried out for the U.S. junior national team, said the sport teaches “perseverance and endurance.”

“One of the things I try to get across to the kids is soccer is unique among sports even though it is still early in gaining popularity.

“Soccer is not an easy sport. In basketball and football, scores tend to be high. In baseball, you get lots of hits and, every once in a while, a home run.

“In soccer, one goal can take everything you have.”

One challenge, both said, will be maintaining the fledgling program.

Football is definitely a dominant sport for boys in Sweet Home, Savre said, though he thinks soccer would be a good alternative for some who are not built for the collisions on the gridiron.

“It would be great if they had a little more interest, but we’re kind of fighting culture a little bit.”

For the girls, it will also be a matter of maintaining numbers, Markell said.

“I think a big challenge to keeping this program going is going to player participation. The seventh grade group is large, but I’m concerned about the low number of girls coming up to the junior high in the coming years.”