I thought that soccer had made the leap. That it had arrived. That we were well beyond wondering when the beautiful game would worm its way into our collective hearts and become America’s game.
So why are high school teams from North Coast schools folding? Why are so few girls turning out that those who remain are forced to try out for the boys team?
It was the announcement that Rincon Valley Christian High School would not field a girls soccer team this season that got my attention.
The Eagles posted a respectable 13-7 overall record and 10-6 in the North Central League II last fall. With just five seniors on that roster, they should have had a solid team this season.
“I don’t necessarily think it reflects a general like or dislike of soccer for girls, I think it just happened that we had more girls wanting to go out for volleyball,” said Todd Roberts, coach of the boys team that now includes four girls players and starts two of them.
“It has been kind of a struggle for us to field girls teams in the past,” he said.
Tor Benestad, the athletic director at Rincon Valley Christian who coached soccer for years, said that two decades ago, the team would typically have seven or eight soccer players but the rest of the roster would be filled out by interested athletes who’d say, “Oh yeah, I’ll play soccer.”
I had hoped we were past soccer as an afterthought.
Almost 27 million people in the U.S. watched the Women’s World Cup final when the U.S. beat up on Japan 5-2 this summer. It was the most watched soccer game in our nation’s history.
But those who love the game, those coaches who are fielding coed teams at their schools because the numbers don’t support a girls team on their own, tell me it’s not soccer’s fault. It’s a numbers game.
“We have a school of 80 and across 80 we field a soccer team, a volleyball team and a football team,” Potter Valley head coach Ben Calvert said. “For us, it’s not a surprise, it’s just the way the numbers work.”
Numbers can be harsh.
Calvert and his Bearcats showed up at Rincon Valley Christian last week with 10 players. The game is played with 11.
The final score was Rincon Valley Christian 3, Potter Valley 0.
Calvert, a teacher at Potter Valley, hasn’t known anything but coed since taking over four years ago.
“These girls will hold their own against you. You don’t have to tiptoe around them,” he said. “To me, that’s one of the fun parts.”
But more fun? More girls playing.
I don’t begrudge volleyball or other sports or other choices, I just like to see more girls playing.
But haven’t we been singing this tune since 1999? The year of Brandi’s bra and 90,000 sweaty fans packed into the Rose Bowl to watch the U.S. beat China in a penalty shootout in the World Cup final?
The National Federation of State High School Associations reports soccer participation in 2013-14 was up nearly 9 percent from 2008-09. According to the 2014 ESPN Sports Poll, a survey of more than 400,000 people that measures fans and who they follow, professional soccer ranked No. 2, behind only pro football, among 12- to 17-year-olds.