Girls’ and boys’ soccer teams unify after decades apart
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For the first time since 1992, both boys and girls will play on the varsity soccer team.
The team will play in the boys’ league since the league allows girls to play on boys’ teams but not the other way around.
Boys’ coach Matt Vargo is working with former girls’ soccer coach George Champayne to co-coach the team.
Actually, the very first soccer team, coached by former history teacher Daniel Neukom in 1974, was also coed. It even included a few middle school students since the school was so small.
Neukom said that he started the team because he had learned to play soccer when he was 10 years old and attended a boarding school in Switzerland.
He then went on to play club soccer while an undergraduate at Stanford University, and even took on a paid job at Woodside Priory School in Portola Valley as history teacher and soccer coach.
“Soccer was just beginning its widespread popularity in the 1970s, so it was still considered somewhat exotic,” Neukom wrote in an essay about SCDS soccer for the 50th anniversarary.
“We were fortunate. Jesuit, Waldorf, Encina and Christian Brothers agreed to include Country Day in their schedules.”
These were most of the schools with soccer teams in the Sacramento area at that time.
The games with Jesuit’s team stood out the most to Neukom.
“There were always a lot of Jesuit boys that would come to the game to watch Country Day,” Neukom said. “They would come specifically to watch the Country Day girls.”
Though the coed team’s first four years were difficult, their fifth year was much more successful, and they finished 7-1-2.
“(Former headmaster Clayton J. Tidey) and the Board sent me a letter of congratulations and a gift certificate to a fancy French restaurant to celebrate the accomplishment,” Neukom wrote.
Though the team didn’t see much success, the 1981 season was a real turning point.
“We (named ourselves) the ‘Berserkers,’” Neukom wrote. “Martin Hoshino (’82) led the scoring with 21 goals – an all-time SCDS record.”
Neukom also mentioned other players who dominated the season.
Neukom said that he fondly remembers coaching both Rochelle Law, ’76 and her boyfriend Dave Pollock, ’77.
“They really lived and breathed soccer,” Neukom said. “The two of them would play together all the time and that’s where she really grew to love the sport.”
Law was a member of the first soccer team at UCLA, working with another UCLA student, Margaret Forbes, to establish the team in 1976. The girls would practice with the boys until they competed in California’s first intercollegiate league in 1979.
“I’ll never forget the day I saw Life magazine’s cover photo at the local Lucky store,” Neukom wrote. “It was of Rochelle Law, arms raised in a cheer. She was on the women’s soccer team at UCLA. The Country Day soccer program had arrived.”
After 10 years of coaching, Neukom turned the team over to former math teacher and head of high school Dan Williams.
The first official girls’ team at Country Day was founded in 1992, though some girls still played on the boys’ team, either because of their skill or because the boys’ team needed players.
Vargo started coaching boys’ soccer 15 years ago.
Even though the team has yet to play its first game, the unconventional line-up is causing problems.
Victory Christian’s policy states that they will not play any cross-gendered teams in contact sports, although Vargo said he hadn’t heard of any other Christian school with a similar policy.
Ironically, Neukom’s team faced the same issue with Victory Christian (see sidebar).
Our league, the SMAL, has only one other coed team (John Adams Academy), but Vargo doesn’t think our chances in league are hindered by playing both boys and girls.
“I think our team will be more competitive this year (since) we’ve pooled the talents from both teams,” he said.
“There are really good male and female players on campus.”
He said the team will also be better since they have more players and can substitute players when those on the field start to get tired.
While there weren’t enough girls to have their own team, a few girls joined after hearing the team would be coed.
Junior Tori Van Vleck said she joined because she felt it would take less time than the all-girls’ team.
“Since the team is a lot bigger and my attendance wouldn’t always be necessary, I feel like it’ll be less of a time commitment for me,” Van Vleck said.
Van Vleck played soccer as a child and joined the SCDS middle school team in sixth grade. She stopped playing soccer when she started playing club volleyball, but since she isn’t participating in that this year, she picked soccer back up again.
Junior Abby LaComb joined the team after initially having chosen not to play.
“But since I hadn’t (played coed soccer) in a long time I thought it would be fun” LaComb said, “especially since a lot of my friends are on the team.”
LaComb started playing soccer when she was 5 years old and competitive club soccer when she was 8. She currently plays for the Folsom Lake Earthquakes and was captain of last year’s girls’ soccer team.
Junior Lia Kaufman, who’s been playing soccer since she was 3 years old, will be playing on the team alongside her brother, senior Theo Kaufman.
“(Playing with Theo) was really fun in middle school, and I think it will be a lot more fun now since the team is much more competitive,” she said.
Lia said she and Theo played for two years in middle school and still practice at school together sometimes.
Kaufman started playing at both Country Day and Sacramento United Soccer club in sixth grade.
She switched to Union Football Club last year.
Kaufman said she has high hopes for both the team and playing with her brother again.
“I’m really excited to play coed, and I think the team will do really well since there is so much skill,” Kaufman said.
—By Mehdi Lacombe