In its first year as a program, Willard’s boys soccer team seems to have all the keys needed to establish itself as a sustained varsity sport.
The Flashes have a dedicated coach — Benjamin Guerra — who is also involved in the community’s youth program, support from the community, parents, athletic director Dave Ball and a 15-man roster with no seniors on it.
“He’s done a great job,” Ball said of Guerra. “Ben’s the reason we're here. He volunteered and he's been the push behind it. He’s done a really great job and I can’t say enough good things about him.
We’re really excited about the sport. There are always challenges when you introduce a new sport, but the kids, parents and coaches have put a lot of hard work into the program.”
While 15 is a fairly low number for a sport that fields 11 players at a time, having a youth program to feed into the program over the years is a major asset.
“It’s very important for Willard because they’ve never had a soccer program,” Guerra said. “We’re working also behind this program, we have the local program that we started two years ago. Without that local program, it would not be possible to bring this game to the high school. So it’s something new for Willard and a lot of parents in the community are really excited over here.”
Guerra also added that it's not just about playing soccer, the program is also helping the kids in the classroom.
“It’s very positive for the kids and a lot of kids who want to play here, they need to know that they need to get their grades in good shape,” he said. “So it’s very good for the school because a few kids in this group right now, there was some bad shape in grades, so they had to work harder. It's bringing a lot of positive things to Willard.”
Despite the low numbers, Guerra is pleased with the way the team has played so far this season.
“We need to recruit more kids to play,” he said. “Right now, three of our kids are injured, so we're playing with whatever we’ve got right now this year, but I can’t complain. They’re doing a really good job. They're in the process of learning everything, but I'm happy. I'm happy with these kids.
“The last two games we played with 11 and nine players, so it’s tough to play like that. But they don’t give up and that's a good sign. So hopefully next year we have a bigger team.”
The team holds club status this season. Willard’s athletic department rules require that the team goes through three years of club play before gaining varsity status.
“In Willard’s athletic handbook, a team needs three years of a trial basis to show it can sustain a program,” Ball said. “It needs to show that the interest is there with enough players to have a varsity, and ideally, a JV team. It’s kind of a birth process to make sure we have three years before we go ahead and fully implement it as a varsity sport.”
Ball explained that the main differences between club and varsity teams are financial, but also that it means the Flashes aren't able to compete for a league title.
“The No. 1 difference between club and varsity is financial,” he said. “All expenses are paid for by the club. They receive no financial support from the athletic department or school. Financially they're on their own. They’re also not an Northern Ohio League sport at this time. To become an NOL sport they need to be an established program for three years to transfer from a club to a recognized athletic sport.”
According to Ball, the NOL bylaws state that half the schools in the league must have varsity programs for the sport to be recognized by the league. So with the addition of Ontario this year and Sandusky in 2011 to charter member Norwalk (1944) and Tiffin Columbian (1954), the NOL has four boys soccer teams out of its seven schools.
Despite not being a recognized NOL team this season, the Flashes had games against Norwalk and Columbian's JV teams.
The 16-game schedule featured a mixture of varsity and JV programs, including Huron and Port Clinton's varsity teams and Oak Harbor’s reserve team.
“That was all my doing,” Ball said of the schedule. “I scheduled a mixture of varsity and JV games on purpose to give the team a variety of opponents in their first season. We didn't know how many kids would come out for the team. We had done a lot planning, but until Aug. 1, the first day of practice, we did not know if we would have a team. We had a lot of interest, but we didn't want to schedule anyone until we knew we'd have a team.
“So when we knew we’d have enough, then I went ahead and put a schedule together,” he added. “We talked to a lot of different teams and some of them said they had JV games open and I thought it would be a good idea — No. 1 because it’s the program's first year, and No. 2 because there aren't any seniors on the team.”
The Flashes close out the regular season against Tiffin Calvert on Tuesday.
They had their sectional tournament draw Sunday.
In Division II, the Flashes are schedule to play Lexington at 7 p.m. on Oct. 14 at Tiffin Columbian.