At Oakland Mills, soccer's all in the family Boys, girls teams share on, off field

November 12, 1992|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,Staff Writer

The Oakland Mills boys and girls soccer programs have an unusual family-like arrangement. They share nearly everything -- practices, study hall, cars, soccer equipment, food and sometimes even uniforms.

Senior midfielder Mandy Kolste thinks the Scorpions' soccer experience is something special.

"I wouldn't trade it for the world," she said.

She's not just talking about Oakland Mills' tradition of soccer excellence. The boys have won seven state titles, and the girls four. And both teams have reached the state semifinals this season.

She's talking about the fun and the sharing -- both on and off the field -- among soccer players.

At many schools, the boys and girls programs do not interact. Typically, they practice on separate fields, with separate equipment and often don't know the players on teams of a different gender.

At Oakland Mills, boys and girls players know each other. If something happens to one player, others quickly learn about it.

The female Scorpions routinely join in the warm-up drills with the boys. The teams also sometimes scrimmage together, with a boy and a girl teaming up at the same position.

For instance, strikers Tricia Witte and Teddy Lawler will play for one team, while strikers Ginny Dye and Henry Roh will play for the other.

"Some guys elsewhere probably would laugh at us, but our guys always pass to us and encourage us," said senior fullback Kristin Miller. "And if anyone in the stands tries to make fun of us during games, the guys always take up for us."

The varsity girls team even scrimmaged the junior varsity boys team head on and tied it, 1-1.

During preseason training, when the teams practiced at different times, the girls captains, Kolste and Tyann Blissett, attended the boys practices to pick up tips for her team.

The teams also prepare the fields for each other before games and share equipment -- including goal-keeping gloves -- and on at least one occasion, a pair of soccer shorts.

"I forgot mine one day and borrowed a pair from one of the guys," said Miller.

They also line up together at boys coach Don Shea's blue Chevy van to get their ankles taped before practices. The van is a focal point for hanging out.

"You can find anything you need in that van -- jackets, socks, checks, diapers, old soccer balls," said senior fullback Jenny Arbogast. "I found a soccer ball in there that I lost three years ago."

For play days -- daylong multi-team scrimmages arranged by Oakland Mills at several fields in late August and early September -- the boys and girls combined efforts to produce enough lawn mowers and muscle to cut the grass on all the

fields.

The boys and girls are also known to share meals. At one of the boys' most important games in September, the girls provided fried chicken.

"It was an away game, and we knew they wouldn't have time to get anything to eat," Blissett said.

Both teams have advanced to the state Class 2A semifinals. The girls, with a 12-1 record, will play Liberty at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at South Carroll. The boys have a 10-2-3 record and will play Glenelg at 5 p.m. Saturday at Catonsville Community College.

Academics are important for both teams, and Shea arranges periodic study halls for both.

"Our girls team has a very high grade-point average," he said.

Attendance at games is a big way the teams show support for each other.

The players attempt to attend each other's away games, and when possible watch at least half of the home games.

For one of the girls' biggest games -- a rare night one at Howard -- the entire boys team showed up to cheer.

"It's really disappointing if they can't come," Blissett said.

The sharing extends beyond the playing field.

When Miller's tire was slashed at school, the boys soccer players changed it.

When senior midfielder Rob Ricketts needed money in a hurry to buy sweat socks, the girls pitched in and bought them.

Some off-the-field socializing includes dating. Witte dates Kevin Brown. Ricketts dates Antoinette Bwalya.

Part of the reason the program seems like one big happy family is that it includes nine brother-sister or brother-brother combinations among the varsity and junior varsity teams.

And four more players had older siblings who played for Oakland Mills -- Mandi Avery, Mandy Kolste, Henry Roh and Kasenia Lantzky.

"Sister Sledge, we are family," said Don Shea, referring to the popular tune about family life.

Part of the family-like fun revolves around superstitions. The teams have plenty of them.

Ricketts carries a good-luck marble he borrowed from the Shea's youngest daughter, Molly. Blissett carries a lucky dime in her soccer shoe, and several boys carry tiny trolls inside their soccer socks for luck.

The boys and girls varsity teams are melded into this one, large and usually happy family by the unusual husband-and-wife coaching team of Don and Nancy Shea.

Their home is an open house for team members, who sometimes baby-sit the Sheas' three young children, Trevor, Megan and Molly.

Don Shea is the type of coach who would give his players the shirt off his back -- and has.

"I liked one of the T-shirts he was wearing one day so he gave it to me," Blissett said.

Like any patriarch, Shea also has his tough side. His raspy, ear-piercing voice can cut right through a player who is messing up during a game or practice.

The boys team last year had its first losing season since 1976, but Holmes said even that wasn't a totally bad experience.

"Even when the season goes badly, we still have fun," he said.

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