FORT SMITH — Trinity Catholic School’s Fútbol Club is generating excitement and community involvement in its inaugural season, and teacher/coach Manuel Ordóñez hopes to see soccer recognized as an interscholastic sport in the River Valley area soon.
“I have been trying to start a soccer team at Trinity for four years,” Ordóñez, who had played third-division soccer in El Salvador before moving to the U.S., said, “but this year, Juan Barba, the owner of La Huerta (restaurant), had a son start sixth grade here and helped us get the program going. When Zach Edwards (Trinity principal) saw parents getting involved, he gave me the green light to start a program. Juan bought a lot of soccer balls and uniforms for all the players and helps coach the teams.”
“American football is only popular here and in Canada,” said Barba, who played professional soccer in Mexico before suffering a career-ending knee injury. “In all other countries, football means soccer.”
Last fall, the school fielded girls’ and boys’ teams. Fort Smith Public Schools don’t offer soccer in middle school, so the teams play against Van Buren, Greenwood and Alma middle schools and River Valley Fútbol Club during eight-game fall and spring seasons.
Kelly Amador, whose children attend Christ the King and Trinity, works with parent volunteers to coordinate snacks, help with setup and collect money at games to help pay for the referees. The teams play every Saturday morning in season.
“In the fall, I set up and chalked the fields, but now we have some help,” Ordóñez said.
Forty-five students played in the fall season, and 40 returned in the spring. This spring, Trinity offered a sixth-grade physical education class on the principles of soccer, combining outdoor practice sessions with classroom instruction on formations, passing and throwing the ball.
Soccer fever grew when Paco Torres moved to Fort Smith this year.
“Torres played pro soccer in Puebla and Mexico City,” Barba said. “He’s working with the Boys and Girls Club here, and we hired him to help us run a soccer camp in April.”
“We had fifth-graders from Christ the King, Immaculate Conception and other schools along with our own students,” Ordóñez said. “We’d like to hold a second camp this summer.”
Although soccer is popular with elementary students in northwest Arkansas, Fort Smith doesn’t offer a youth soccer program yet. Trinity is the only middle school with a soccer program, and even though Northside and Southside High Schools have teams, many of their players had no earlier soccer experience.
“Some of my students and alumni have told me how glad they are to see soccer at Trinity,” Ordóñez said.
While they hope to see middle school soccer recognized by the Arkansas Athletic Association as an official interscholastic sport in a few years, they still face a few challenges. Sixth graders haven’t reached physical maturity and Trinity, with a grade 6-8 team, has struggled playing against an eighth-grade Greenwood team.
Barba takes that in stride.
“We want the kids to play their best and have fun without focusing too much on winning and losing. None of our team members sit on the sidelines for the whole game. Everyone plays.”
“Soccer isn’t only about kicking the ball around. It’s about teamwork, staying healthy and keeping up your grades to stay on the team,” Ordóñez said. “Soccer brings communities and families together.”
He said he hopes Trinity’s status as the only Fort Smith middle school with a soccer team will attract new students. He said he talked with Fort Smith Mayor George McGill about improving the two soccer fields near the riverfront.
Ordóñez is looking forward to bringing his teams to the River Valley Fútbol Club’s tournament at Ben Geren Park when the season ends.
“You know me. I never give up,” he said. “When someone tells me ‘no,’ it gives me extra motivation. We will keep on working until Trinity soccer is officially recognized as an AAA sport.”
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