Wildcats Begin Soccer Program With JV Team
Joseph Barkoff, story and photos for the Edmonson Voice:
Edmonson County High School boys’ soccer took the field for their first, and Edmonson County Schools’ first time ever, against a seasoned Barren County HS at the Glasgow Soccer complex Friday Sept. 10 in Glasgow.
Edmonson is a program in its infancy and the two teams were both junior varsity, but you have to start somewhere.
The school board just passed the order to begin soccer this past summer, Edmonson County HS athletic director Brad Johnson said.
“We passed it this summer,” Johnson said. “It took a couple of readings from the board to get soccer started and when we finally got the go-ahead to go, we started reaching out to local schools and scheduling JV games.”
Edmonson County HS will begin with play in a JV schedule against other schools’ JV squads, Johnson said.
“We gotta walk before we can run,” Johnson said. “We are kinda in the early stages of it, but, they’ve been playing league soccer on their own at Chalybeate and we feel like we’ve got some interest, some momentum going, and everybody’s anxious to see what it’s gonna look like.”
Johnson said when you drive by folks in neighborhoods, you tend to see more basketball hoops and kids throwing footballs than soccer balls being kicked around in yards. While it feels like it is in its infancy in the area, it has seeped into the culture and he notes the kids who play really seem to enjoy it.
Nationwide, Johnson thinks soccer has become more popular in recent years, contributing to the high numbers of new student players, he said.
“We have good numbers in boys and girls, and are tickled to death to have both.”
Soccer in Edmonson County has been growing in popularity since the introduction of youth soccer over six years ago.
“Honestly, and you can quote me on this, I think it will spread like wildfire,” Johnson said about soccer in the area. “I think kids will really enjoy it.”
Edmonson County HS soccer head coach Greg Hudson began his soccer coaching career those six years ago, shifting from the Parks and Rec program director to soccer coach, he said.
Initially Hudson was the program director for the Parks Department here in Edmonson County and they wanted to give the kids a fall ball sport, Hudson said. With softball and baseball in the spring and summer months, basketball during winter, soccer filled the void in the fall.
Hudson filled the void as coach.
Edmonson County had tried soccer previously, in 2006 and 2007, but it didn’t go over very well at the time, Hudson said. He feels the timing of it during the hottest months of the summer, when it was offered right after baseball and softball ended, did not help it catch on.
Six years ago, “When they started it up again here, it just kinda took off,” Hudson said.
When the youth league first began there were only 31 players split amongst three teams, Hudson said.
The following year there were 76. Then 123, and four years ago they had 165 kids. Last year Covid-19 threw a monkey wrench into everything but they still could boast 146 players.
This year with the introduction of junior high and high school level play in the county, the ages for youth soccer caps at 12 years old, and they have 197 kids playing in 2021.
For the schools getting the go-ahead just months ago in summer made the season a little sticky to start.
“We had a really late start this year,” Hudson said. “It’s hard for us to get a game right now because the schedules were set.”
One difficulty ECHS will face this year is not being attached to a district for scheduling.
“Right now we are not in a district,” Hudson said. “We have not been put into a district because we are a brand new program.”
Schools need a varsity-level team to be entered into the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.
“If things go well enough this year, we are going to go ahead and request to move up to varsity level for the boys and the girls both,” Hudson said. “The district will be able to go from there as far as game schedules.”
Hudson, who retired from 20 years of service as a Marine gunnery sergeant in mechanized infantry and is not new to adapting and overcoming, said his biggest issue has been with the administrative side of ball.
He considers himself a structured individual and can handle administrative duties pretty well he said, but points out things like the uniforms not coming in as scheduled has been one of the biggest hurdles so far, he said.
“I can learn the rules,” Hudson said.
He can coach too.
The newly-formed team also faces other issues. For example, while playing in the youth league, they used a modified rules system to help people, players, and coaches become acclimated with the rules and game-play.
As a result, some of the players taking the field this year will be seeing calls like offsides for the first time.
“I have kids that have never played soccer before on the team,” Hudson said.
Players, like Cameron Whitfill, 16, had never played a lick of soccer before two weeks ago.
“He walked out there one day and he said, ’I’m here. Is this where I play soccer?’”
“I said, yeah,” Hudson said.
“He has turned out to be a real blessing in disguise,” Hudson said.
With only a couple players for substitutions during the game, Hudson had time to talk to players about improvements that could be made.
Whitfill came out at one point and Hudson asked him, “You see what’s going on?”
“Yes,” Whitfill answered Hudson and then he proceeded to describe and explain what was happening to Coach in detail all the things they needed to do better, Hudson said.
“Yeah, that’s exactly right,” Hudson said to Whitfill, with a little bit of amazement.
Other players like Hunter Hayes, 16, have played in youth leagues in both Edmonson County and in Bowling Green.
“I think we have a lot to learn,” Hayes said. “I think this is the start to something really great, and I am just happy we got to play.”
His favorite thing about the game was, “I think we worked hard,” he said.
They did indeed.
The jerseys came in Thursday evening, a day before their first game, but they still don’t have the shorts or socks, Hudson said.
“I told the boys, once the jerseys come in, we’re playing,” Hudson said.
“The biggest issue is getting the equipment in,” Hudson said. “Really, not only look like a team but I think once they have their complete uniforms it will help their confidence.”
If only having half a uniform helped their confidence, the future is looking bright for Wildcat soccer.
As the first whistle sounded and the game began, Hudson felt the team may have been more nervous than originally anticipated, and the three goals scored in the first 10 minutes by Barren County reflected the time it took for the reality of the new situation to set in.
“I think the excitement and nervousness of getting to play their first game was a little bit of why we dropped those three goals in the first half that quick,” Hudson said.
Once the nerves settled and patience became a tool, instead of over-pursuit, Barren County would only score one more goal in the following 50 minutes of play.
“They settled down and I was impressed from there on out,” Hudson said.
Hudson said he doesn’t feel he brought anything tactically or technically to the game, he said.
“That’s a credit to them,” Hudson said. “It’s easy for me to be over on the sidelines and yell instructions at ‘em, tell ‘em what to do, but once they are out there on the field, they have to perform it.”
He feels his whole job as coach is to keep them as calm as possible and focused on the game itself, he said. They’ll do all the rest of it.
At half time, the score was still the original 3-0 and Hudson brought the player to the bench.
“Who thought we would be down 3-0 at halftime?” Hudson asked. “More than three?”
Two players raised a hand.
“Well guess what, three to nothing is no big deal,” Hudson said.
The players nodded in silent agreement from the bench in the sideline dugout.
“So far, I am happy with the play,” Hudson said at half time. “We are still making mistakes right now because we have not played anyone but ourselves.”
By the end of the game the score was 4-0 in favor of BCHS, but the Wildcats had managed to make shots on goal with a couple of potential breakaways and good clears and saves by the defense and goal keepers.
Before the game, Hudson told his players, “as long as you get out there and you play to your best then I am satisfied with the result, whatever it is. Because we are building.”
The result was better than some thought would happen.
“Overall, I was really pleased,” Hudson said. “Honestly, I thought we would get beat by more than that.”
One dad on the sideline, Eric Murphy, with two sons on the field, Josh and Adian Gates, thinks it’s huge the school has soccer now.
Not only does it give them something to do, but it gets them involved in activities he feels will help them grow, and they really like soccer, he said.
And about the game.
“I think they did awesome,” Murphy said. “I think they did great.”
Another dad in the stands, Jason Dooley, a math teacher at Glasgow HS, his son Ian was in the net.
“I think it’s good,” Dooley said. “Any activity they can offer to give the students more choices, more activities to participate in, I think it’s a good thing.”
He wishes the soccer team could get more support from the school system, the way basketball or football do, he said. All the activities, whether athletic or academic, all activities should be supported more because of the value they bring to the school system.
“I think sports are great for kids,” Dooley said. “ I see value in it and I think it’s good for the kids.”
And the kids after the game.
“Amazing,” a handful of players said as they made their way off the field at the game’s conclusion said.
“Do you not see the score?” They said.
And the more experienced players.
“We worked hard and I am glad the other team agreed to play, so we can learn a lot from them,” Hayes said.
Now, Hayes feels, they know better what they lack, and what they are strong with, he said.
“I think we got winded pretty fast,” Hayes said the hardest thing about the game was. “I think we need to work on our endurance and communication. Get some chemistry going.”
There is chemistry, it was apparent on the field in the way they team never got discouraged or down on one another in frustration. Also apparent, they just need more time on ball together against other teams.
“Small town, we all know each other,” Hayes said. He didn’t need to finish the sentence.
As the fledgling season moves forward, Hudson is excited for what the future holds.
“We have a very positive outlook right now for the rest of the season and we are really looking forward to next year’s season and we have everything set,” Hudson said. “We’ve got all their games scheduled ahead of time, not dealing with that and we’ve got all the equipment we need.”
Hudson is absolutely looking forward to moving up to varsity next year, he said.
“I didn’t tell them, they played perfectly, of course,” Hudson said. “I did tell them they played well and I was proud of the way they played.”