If that particular ancient Roman scholar were to chronicle the recent successes of the Oak Park and River Forest high school boys' soccer program, Pliny's Naturalis Historia de Huskie Futbol<I> would indeed be a slim volume. Conversations with the school's coaches in years past (no Latin spoken here) have cited the lack of technical and tactical skills of incoming players as a root cause. However, the next chapter is being written as we speak, with an improved club soccer program producing fundamentally sound players.
Case in point is this season's boys' soccer program. The varsity turned heads in the West Suburban (Silver) Conference by going 3-3, highlighted by a stunning 3-0 win over Top 10-ranked Lyons Township, and a 2-2 tie with cross-town rival Fenwick. All levels of Huskie boys' soccer enjoyed success, but none more so than the sophomore team. Coach Joe Holt's squad finished with a stellar record of 14-2-2, winning a very competitive conference against the likes of perennial powerhouses Hinsdale Central, York and Glenbard West. Watching their play this season could have left the uninitiated observer with the impression they were watching a varsity-level team. At the team's season-end dinner party, Holt praised the boys as one of the two best teams he's coached in 17 years at OPRF, adding that "they came in knowing how to play."
Indeed, for most boys on the team (see photo), soccer is their pre-eminent high school sport, and the skill and teamwork on display this season was the product of years of club soccer.
Still, progress has been halting due to the lack of a coherent, structured high school club (off-season) program. The two prominent local clubs, the newer Rapids Soccer Club and more established OPRF Strikers discussed merging their high school club efforts last year. Rather than competing for players just to field teams, the two clubs would work together to field boys and girls teams at higher competitive levels. Ultimately however, the Rapids chose not to participate, ceding the high program back to the Strikers.
This fall, many of the factions within the soccer community promoting boys' high school age soccer have managed to put aside their differences and work together with the Strikers to promote the best interests of soccer in our community. Equally important, OPRF head coach Martin Duffy is working (within IHSA rules) with the Strikers and their coaching staff from ProExcel to better structure the off-season program. The result is becoming clear. The Strikers now have five teams from U15 to U18 playing competitive indoor soccer this fall, and over 60 boys registered for tryouts for spring teams. Prospects for Striker boys teams playing club soccer this spring look very promising. Heretofore, gathering this number of players in our community in one program (including many of the top players) has not been possible, due, at least in part, to in-fighting amongst the competing clubs. As a result, all of the club programs were weaker, and many players felt they needed to seek other clubs outside the community to play more competitive soccer.
With the cooperation evidenced this fall between the Strikers and OPRFHS, good things cannot be too far off for boys soccer in the community. Indeed, there is now anticipation that the boys program will be able to experience the same level of success as the girls program, which has just finished its first season playing at the A level (the highest level of club soccer available in the State). By playing club soccer for Strikers, players at the high school level get the chance to play with players from Fenwick, St. Ignatius, Trinity, Morton, Lane Tech, Leyden, York and Morton, and attracts some of the best players from those schools.
Stadium Lights Redux: I thought I went to the wrong school the other day upon arriving at the OPRFHS Lake Street field for my team's soccer practice, when what to my wondering eyes did appear but the Fenwick football team coming off the field in good cheer. Now, I have nothing against the high school being good neighbors with Fenwick (an example that could be followed by other field owners in our community) but this is yet another reason why the high school community needs lights at the stadium field.
My thanks to Edward Schroeder for contributing to this column.