By Joseph A. Curtatone
(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)
With the cheery arrival of the holidays each year, we all must face one dreaded, simple, unfortunate truth: the fall sports season has reached its end. But rather than sulking, let’s instead celebrate a team of young, local young athletes who proved their mettle on the field this season. Somerville really did have itself a soccer team this year. And boy, did they go deep.
As a coach, I know that it’s not easy to play any game well. But the Somerville Highlanders Varsity Soccer team made it all the way to the State Division 1 Semi-Finals this year. That’s just one game away from vying for the State Championship and plenty of reason to be proud, as Coach George Scarpelli rightfully is.
The way he tells it, these young men – and the many volunteers and supporters and parents involved with the program – have grown into a family. Getting this far into this year’s postseason, he says, was no accident: it’s because the bond between these players has been growing stronger every year since they first started playing together as youngsters. Many learned footwork and team play together as they came up through the ranks of Somerville Youth Soccer. They added new skills on the junior varsity team together. And Coach Scarpelli got them into Division 1 form as they trained hard on the varsity team. The entire soccer community in town deserves some credit for producing these D1 athletes, and this family, says Coach Scarpelli.
I’m inclined to trust his word.
Here in Somerville, like the rest of the country, we value effort and a strong work ethic. That’s what makes sports interesting in the first place: it’s not enough that our athletes have talent and the desire to showcase it. A great athlete gets our respect and appreciation for his or her ability to inspire others through their dedication. It’s how you get it done, not just that you got it done.
So as I cheered from the sidelines while the Highlanders made it to the semi-finals, it didn’t surprise me that the first thing Coach Scarpelli said to me about the program was about their commitment. It takes hard work to play a game like soccer well. It’s not enough to be the fastest. It’s not enough to have the most stamina. It takes discipline to work together as a team and focus to have your team working as efficiently as possible. It takes motivation to push yourself to that extra level. And it takes all that and more to win games.
All those things are only a fraction of the sum of their parts. Seeing the way these guys use ball control, work together to feel out their opponent on the field, expand into formation on offense and collapse into columns on defense lets you know just how much they give themselves to that team.
It takes an entire team to develop two State All-Scholastics. While I congratulate Felix DeBona and League MVP Thayrone Miranda, who each scored 26 goals this season (that’s 18 season games and 5 playoff games for those of you wondering), these two exemplary players are just two highlights from an amazing team.
George says that this is a special bunch, and I believe him. Any group that can work through a five-year plan, keep kids coming through word of mouth, and expand that program must have developed a very close bond. When the Highlanders won the Divisional Championship in the Greater Boston League to win a tournament berth this year, all of the alumni from the last five years, the year when George started, came down to hold the trophy. That’s no accident, he says.
This group describes itself as a family, and maybe there’s something to that. A family that speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese and Haitian Creole? Sounds like Somerville to me.
But again, and this is key, it takes a person of good character to be a good soccer player. Scarpelli said his mantra is to be “a gentleman first, a student second and a soccer player third, always in that order.” Nine seniors will be leaving this year. Several of them will have scholarships to attend prestigious colleges like Merrimack, Northeastern and Boston University.
But eight of them will be back. From a soccer program that has become an avenue for kids in Somerville to better their lives and better their neighborhoods they will inherit a newly forged reputation as a force to be reckoned with in this state. It will be on their shoulders to teach the new guys the importance of doing community service. I’m told that many team members put in over 100 hours per season, far more than the 40 hours required by Coach Scarpelli. They will also be expected to compile good academic and attendance records so that their futures can be all the more bright. And if they do it all again as well as they did this year, maybe they’ll win a state championship next year.
Either way, these young men have proven two things. One is that hard work and persistence can pay off.
The other is that helping your friends get there is really what is worth it.