DuBois girls realize goal

New soccer team completes transition from spectators to players.


For the W.E.B. DuBois girls soccer players, the most thrilling moment of their inaugural season came just before the next-to-last game.

Finally, the new uniforms had arrived.

The Panthers cast off the old, green Northern hand-me-downs and assumed a shiny, new blue-and-gold identity. Just wearing the new jerseys infused the Panthers with school pride as they took the field at Patterson.

"It was exciting, because we didn't like the green ones. We wanted our school colors," Panthers junior Desiree Calo said. "Everybody was happy. We lost the game, but everybody was happy."

The uniforms completed something the Panthers began back in August when they gathered as a team for the first time.

A year earlier, some of the girls got tired of being spectators for the boys team. They wanted to play, too.

Marie Tamfu and Solange Kengni approached athletic director Linda Mitchell-Holmes about starting their own team at DuBois, one of the schools created by the division of Northern High School three years ago.

"We kept practicing with the boys and it was getting fun and fun and fun," Tamfu said. "So me and my friend Solange went and saw Coach Holmes and asked her if she could make a team for us. When we got a girls team, I was so happy."

Although overmatched by more experienced opponents, the Panthers gradually increased their skills level - and their expectations.

When the final whistle blew on their debut season after an Oct. 18 home match against City, none of the Panthers celebrated.

"We were mad. We wanted to win," said Calo, after a 4-0 loss in which DuBois had trailed only 1-0 at halftime.

Even as City coach Steve Wais commended them for "marked improvement" over an 8-0 loss to the Knights a month earlier, the Panthers did not perk up.

"I think they realized that at halftime it was such a close game, they had a chance and they were really frustrated with themselves how they fell apart," Panthers coach Levi Straight said. "If they remember that, it could be a building block. That was another positive in this season."

Calo said losing what had been a close game only motivated the Panthers.

"It matters whether we win or lose," she said, "but don't say because we lost the game, that's down. That's not down. We're going to keep going to practice and doing what we need to do."

Every non-senior on the team vowed to return next fall when the Panthers make their official debut in the Baltimore City league. This fall, they played a four-game independent schedule of city teams.

The Panthers did not win a game and did not score a goal, but their record was secondary to their major accomplishment - just getting a team on the field.

Mitchell-Holmes had attempted to start a program a year earlier, but not enough girls showed interest. This season, the Panthers finished with 13 girls, although a few of them came from the volleyball team to make sure there were enough to play.

In the past few years, three athletic directors in the city have tried to start girls soccer programs. Only Mitchell-Holmes succeeded.

"Linda just did a great job," said Bob Wade, coordinator of athletics for the Baltimore City public schools.

"She made believers of a lot of people that it could be done. With those schools having separated [from Northern] and trying to add to existing programs, she did a great job of motivating the kids to come out and try it. She's a go-getter."

For Mitchell-Holmes adding soccer was all about making the high school experience richer for the girls at DuBois. Walbrook athletic director Yolanda Jackson and Southside athletic director Dana Johnson wanted the same experience for their girls, but not enough were interested.

Johnson, however, said she will try again next fall.

Last spring, she said 15 to 20 girls showed an initial interest in soccer, but most of them changed their minds by fall. Still, Johnson said, interest in girls sports is increasing at the Cherry Hill school, which fielded a junior varsity volleyball team for the first time this fall.

"It's not particularly about a sport, but I want to get more activities for the young ladies here," Johnson said. "Not everybody wants to play basketball or is into running track, so we're trying to find other activities for them to participate. Soccer is one that they said they'd be interested in and it's up to us to expose them to it."

Finding enough girls to come out for soccer has been a challenge at most city schools. Of 19 public schools, only six fielded girls soccer teams this fall - Western, Poly, City, Patterson, Digital Harbor and DuBois.

"It's hard, because now all the girls want to do is basketball," Mitchell-Holmes said. "I try to tell them there's other sports besides basketball. I think that's an advantage when I have the girls from other countries and they don't put too much stock in basketball."

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