Below is unedited version of Fern Creek’s remarkable story, featured in Vype Magazine’s November edition.
They might be a diverse bunch with hand-me-down cleats and shorts, but that didn’t stop the players of Fern Creek Traditional High School achieving a fantastic feat on the soccer field this fall.
With a squad comprising members from no less than 11 countries, the multinational Tigers fought their way to the Sixth Region championship – their first ever – after winning the 24th District crown.
Fern Creek’s incredible run was eventually halted in the state tournament series matchup against North Hardin, ending a nine-game winning streak in a season which saw them post a 15-5-3 record.
First-year coach John Pedro’s varsity and junior varsity charges are a mix of players from Iraq, Kenya, Somalia, Bosnia, Mexico, Liberia, Guatemala, the Philippines, Spain, Nepal and the U.S. (including the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico).
“I’ve never coached a team this diverse in age or ethnicity,” says Pedro, who took over from three-year head coach Jamie Dumstorf. “At the beginning of the season, I really had to sit back, observe and understand the dichotomy of the situation and of the players.”
They had three weeks of grueling preseason training which allowed Pedro, ably aided by assistant Kelsey Krueger, to get to know the players and their mindset a little.
“Quickly, I began to understand that most of these kids live in less fortunate circumstances than your typical high school boy,” he says. “Most of these kids don’t have transportation, relying on TARC to get them to practice or home. Their cleats, shorts and clothes are in many cases hand-me-downs. On many occasions we have players borrow each other’s equipment for games and practice because they simply can’t afford new stuff. Some even wonder if they will be able to eat that day or not.”
Yet despite the obstacles, the players trained hard every day, never missing a session.
“Most these kids know the game,” says Pedro. “They watch it, talk about it, and live and breathe it. Having so many different backgrounds was challenging because they all play a little differently than each other and don’t always understand one another. However, soccer is a universal language I think.”
The hard work paid off and as they gelled, the results followed, being rewarded with a district title courtesy of victories against Bullitt East (5-1) and Whitefield Academy (2-1 in double overtime).
The following day, Pedro discovered how much of a unit they had become. He called an emergency practice, asking captains Greg Pineo and Abdikadir Hussein to round up as many troops as possible. Of the 15 that turned up, eight had no cleats and three trained in their school slacks. However, they all decided to train barefoot.
“The ones who were fortunate enough to bring theirs took them off so they could support the ones who didn’t,” he reveals. “At that point, I knew we were one.”
What followed were wins against Southern (4-1), Iroquois (1-0) and Fairdale (1-0) to give the Tigers first ever Region Six crown.
“It has been a terrific season for these kids and I am truly proud of them for their accomplishments,” says Pedro, who himself won a state championship with St Xavier as a goalkeeper in 1994.
Junior Cody Oaks, who was chosen on this year’s All-District team and scored that overtime winner against Whitefield, jokes that it was hard at first for the team to unify because when players got frustrated they started to argue in different languages.
“Even though our backgrounds are all different, our goals are all the same,” he says. “We all like to possess the ball and pass it and win, which helped out a lot too.”
Oaks, a member of United 1996 Internationals ’96 team with fellow Creeker Feryad Mezori, says there is no one player on the team that would be considered the star.
“We are brothers — we work hard and play hard,” he says. “Our future is bright since we are losing only two starting seniors and we have a lot of promising young players. I’m looking forward to next year and know we will once again be playing for the state championship.”