By Sheila Vilvens
The Lockland High School Co-ed Varsity Soccer Team is making history as the school’s first soccer team to suit up and take the field. The team started with nearly nothing last year as a club. This year, with the support of many, it’s the team built by the community. It even received gear valued at $10,000 from Nike thanks to U.S. Soccer team player Sophia Smith, niece of Lockland science teacher Melissa Showalter.
With a roster of boys and girls, the team is surprising some with a few wins and having lots of fun along the way.
With two games in the win column, the coaches and members of the fledgling Lockland Panthers Varsity Soccer Team are feeling good.
And why not? They have much to celebrate. This time last year most of the athletes were playing organized soccer for the very first time as members of Lockland High School’s first club soccer team. This year, they achieved another first as members of the first Lockland High School Varsity Boys Soccer Team that includes a roster of boys and girls.
Behind the push for organized soccer are Kate Miller, English as a second language teacher and assistant coach, and Shannon Fischer, intervention specialist and head coach. The idea was born on field day three years ago when Coaches Fischer and Miller were playing soccer with students. They saw how much the students enjoyed playing. They discussed the idea further while coaching Girls on the Run.
In 2022 they introduced a soccer club to gauge interest. The team practiced once a week.
“We started with almost nothing,” Miller said. Lockland is one of the poorest school districts in the state, and 100% of the student body is on free and reduced lunch. The coaches knew they were going to need help properly equipping the team, and they needed everything.
They secured some balls and cones from the YMCA which tried to start a program in Lockland a few years ago. But the team needed more than this. The coaches initially turned to Facebook to ask for donations of shoes, extra balls and cones.
People came through. Jim Frank, founder of “It Starts with Shoes,” was one of the first people to help. Through his foundation, he donated soccer socks and shoes, but his support didn’t end there.
Over the summer, the coaches wanted to offer a camp for their students. They turned to Frank for help.
“He said, ‘This is right up my alley,’” Miller recalled. “He loves starting teams.”
Frank’s experience with teams dates back about a decade when he first connected with Withrow High School as a volunteer for a struggling school soccer team.
Like Lockland, the students and district lacked the gear they needed. And, also like Lockland, the players were predominately from families who were not natives of the United States. This experience inspired Frank to form his nonprofit.
Others helped, too. Coach Miller enlisted the help of friends from her community of Madeira. The parents of Madeira High School’s JV soccer team learned about the need and offered their support as well. Coaches Miller and Fischer also turned to their churches. The help came in the form of food for soccer camp, sweatshirts and more. Coach Miller also wrote and received a grant from Thrivent.
And the niece of science teacher Melissa Schowalter, Sophia Smith (women’s U.S. soccer team member) also chipped in. Sophia is sponsored by Nike; she secured a gift worth $10,000. It included bags for the students, practice kits, balls and more.
“We look good this year,” Coach Fischer said. The list of donors goes on.
The coaches, athletes and dedicated volunteers are looking forward to more great games this season and building on the program in 2024. Donations and volunteers continue to be appreciated as well.
“As a district, we are always looking for ways to increase opportunities allowing us to equip, engage and motivate our students in order to create positive post-secondary outcomes. The Lockland soccer team is an excellent example of our students, staff, coaches and the community coming together to create experiences for kids based on their interests,” said Superintendent Bob Longworth.