“Soccer is huge for us. It’s just as big as football or basketball in other schools,” Park View High School Principal Virginia Minshew said last week.
Snow unexpectedly blanketed Northern Virginia Monday morning, forcing spring sports practices all over the county to either move inside or be canceled altogether. The Park View High School boys soccer team held practice in the main gym, where this year’s varsity boys and girls basketball teams went a combined 9-37.
The hardwood floor squeaked every few seconds as another player threaded a perfect lead pass, his teammate dribbled deftly around a defender while several others shouted commands. Head coach Arturo Jimenez watched silently in the corner, not needing to give his team any direction; they’re a cohesive unit at this point, mere weeks after they started practicing together.
“Every year, everybody looks forward to spring with us,” Jimenez said. “This is my eighth season, and it’s gotten better every year.”
For the rest of Park View athletics, this year has been one most would like to forget. The football team went 0-10. The volleyball team went 2-18. There were a few bright spots—senior wrestler Ronald Cruz won third place in his weight class at the Group AA state championships and two female swimmers qualified for states—and there is always hope for the future.
“We have a very young athletic program as a whole and we are working hard to move our programs up the Dulles District ladder both in order and respect," Athletic Director Jason Testerman said. “Where I am now, we’re trying to make it cool that you’re an athlete, that you have Park View pride.”
There was a time when every Park View athlete was proud of his or her school.
The Sterling Park institution is the fourth-oldest high school in Loudoun County, and has a storied athletic tradition. It has won 14 state titles, more than any other Loudoun school. And, as any educator and most parents will tell you, winning isn’t the reason schools have sports in the first place.
“I think that when we talk about student-athletes and students being involved in athletic competition that it is important to recognize that there are lots of other things kids gain from participation from athletics other than just a win-loss record,” Minshew said, citing work ethic, teamwork and being a part of a community.
What’s more, like anyone involved with high school sports will tell you, it’s a cyclical process. Some schools rise and other schools fall. Last year, the girls soccer team went 1-15-1 and scored a total of three goals. This year, the Patriots are already 2-0 and have scored nine goals.
“I have been waiting for a program that has been down to just explode onto the scene,” Testerman said, using girls soccer this year as a possible example. “That also helps the rest of the programs.”
While the past is a shining example and the future a beacon of hope, it’s hard to avoid the darkness that has encompassed Park View athletics off the soccer pitch. Junior Sam Onyeador, a leader on the boys soccer team, when asked if he feels pressure as a member of the best sporting unit in the school, shrugged it off.
“Not really,” he said. “If we do well, people will be happy, but if we do bad, no one will really say anything—it’s Park View sports.”
Onyeador might be in the minority. While there isn’t overt pressure to succeed placed on the boys soccer team’s shoulders, boys soccer isn’t just any other sport at Park View.
“It’s big,” senior midfielder Leonel Santos said. Everyone in the community, “they’re all waiting for soccer.”
According to Loudoun County Public Schools, 47 percent of the student body at Park View this year is Hispanic, with many of that population the children of immigrants or immigrants themselves. Their previous countries treat soccer the way Americans treat football.
Park View’s demographics not only go far in explaining the way soccer players train year-round and play on travel teams while athletes in other sports don’t participate in nearly the same rigorous schedule, they also explain the crowds soccer enjoys, particularly compared with football, typically the biggest attendance draw to high school stadiums.
“I like to think about the fact that soccer is a way for our students, particularly our students who come from big soccer-playing countries, for them to connect with an American school,” Minshew said. “It’s about making those connections with kids, and to me, that’s the important thing about our soccer program.”
Around the school, even for the students who aren’t on the soccer team, it’s their connection to those around them. Jimenez said whenever his team orders “spirit wear,” such as sweatshirts with a Park View soccer logo on them, dozens of students not affiliated with the team ask for one of their own.
Jimenez said he has yet to be asked for advice on how to build a program, but he asks his players to act like they’re being used as examples every day.
“I think others look at us as a model team,” he said. “That’s why I’m on their case to be good players, good students and good members of the community.”
Even Onyeador, who, now in his third year at the school, seemed resigned to the current doldrums of Park View sports, admitted this: a special season for the soccer team could give a big lift to the school.
“I like being the underdog,” he said. “Every school needs something to rally around.”