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.”
Below are the Indiana high school players interviewed for this month’s Vype High School Magazine’s feature for seniors’ soccer memories. You can view the digital issue, which includes a comprehensive list of all graduating players, at: http://www.ihigh.com/vypelouisville
Some high school soccer players will carry on their careers on the field into college, while for others it will be their last competitive involvement in the sport.
But they all have something in common: unforgettable memories.
Whether it was winning a postseason championship, simply getting to play and travel with schoolmates, or being moved by the sideline support, all have a moment or two they will carry with them forever.
Take, for example, Assumption’s Brandy Orth Becker from New Albany. The senior striker may have scored two crucial goals in the Rockets’ 3-1 victory over Sacred Heart on their way to winning the Kentucky girls’ Seventh Region championship, but her best high school memory involves what was happening off the field.
“Just before the whistle blew to start the game, something got my attention in the stands,” she explains. “Our parents had secretly made ‘Fatheads’ of each of us. It was hard being nervous when I kept seeing an enormous photo of my head floating in the stands. It reminded me that not only do we play for our team and our school, but also for our number one fans — our parents.”
Leah Mattingly, a Ball State University commitment, has participated in two Indiana Class A state championship games for Providence, both against Mishawaka Marian.
Winning last year’s game against the Knights in a penalty shootout as a junior was obviously a top memory, as was beating Christian Academy of Louisville with just one second left on the clock last year. But one moment that sticks out in particular was her part in the Pioneers’ victory over Floyd Central in double overtime in sectional in 2010.
“I made a run the length of the field and made to pass to Casey Marlin at the top of the box for the score,” she says.
It was a good year for Providence as a school on the soccer field as its boys’ program reached the final four of the Indiana Class A state tournament for the first time.
Top scorer Pierce Crawley, who will be heading to Bellarmine University next year, says his freshman year was very special to him because he was on the varsity team with his brother, Zev. However, this year was his top memory.
“We were unranked and no one gave us a chance of beating No. 4 Evansville Mater Dei – our soccer team made history,” he says.
Jeffersonville’s Jordan Vejar, alsobound for Bellarmine next year,says he has two memorable moments. The first one came during the 2010 Indiana regional semifinal victory over New Albany when he dribbled from midfield to score a fine individual effort.
“The best part was hearing the crowd gradually get louder and louder as I got closer to the goal,” he says.
The second came after the final buzzer of their 1-0 win against Jasper before going on to win the sectional title this fall.
“The only bit of energy I had left was to fall over and throw my arms up in the pouring rain,” he says. “That was the most collective and unified game I’ve ever played with a team and we won it because it was a family playing as a team and not just a team trying to best another team.”
Jeff teammate Brian Fischer, who will be heading for University of Southern Indiana next fall, says breaking his ankle during his freshman year probably isn’t his favorite memory, but an enduring one which had a deep effect on his character.
“Although I was out of commission for several months, it did make me realize how good I had it,” he says.
He went from breaking bones to breaking records, as the following season he claimed the school record for most goals in a season with 22, on the way to winning regional, which was “something special.”
This year saw New Albany High School win its first ever IHSAA girls’ sectional title, when beating Jasper 1-0 in the championship decider.
Tanner Marcum scored the winner in that game, but her most memorable moment came in the semifinal game when she scored the deciding kick in a penalty shootout against rival Floyd Central.
“I was very nervous as I was the last one taking a kick but I made it,” says Marcum. “It was such a euphoric feeling that I had never felt before.”