Since the day it opened in 1998, Hamilton has been known as a football factory, winning state championships, traveling out of state to play games and sending its kids to colleges like few other programs. Several other sports have followed suit (baseball, golf).
Futbol hadn’t been one of them, but in the past few years both the boys and girls programs feel they’re on that path.
Visions of greatness on and off the field is why Nick Markette left his alma mater, Dobson, to coach boys soccer at Hamilton four years ago. It helped sway Kirk Nelson to go from Mountain Pointe to Hamilton as its girls coach three years ago, and now former assistant Jason Thompson has continued what Nelson and Markette helped start.
Both the boys and girls teams are now in the state tournament semifinals together, with the No. 2-seeded girls playing Mesquite on Wednesday at Campo Verde High School, and the No. 2-seeded boys facing Gilbert on Thursday.
That’s never happened. Neither were serious championship contenders until the past couple years. The Huskies girls had been to the playoffs the past four years but couldn’t get past the quarterfinals. The boys reached their first state 5A-I championship match last year and lost a close contest to Corona del Sol.
This year’s seniors were the first group into the school’s new soccer academies when they were freshmen, and the plan is for this to be the beginning.
“It has a lot to do with getting young ones involved in the program, knowing the coaches and players and time together,” Thompson said. “We’ve been together all this time.”
State championships are the goal, but five of the school’s top 10 students academically are in the two soccer programs. Also, all kids in the programs are (or will soon be) certified as soccer officials and as coaches.
There’s also talk of a trip to Europe in summer 2012 to play in a tournament or two, if the kids can raise their own funds approaching $2,000.
“We think it means serving kids academically, wins on the field, good in the community, all of it,” said Markette, who’s on Year 4 of his “10-year plan” for the soccer academy. “We have a long ways to go, but I think we’re making progress. We try to keep the big picture of where we’re taking the program. If we’re doing it right, it should be a source of pride for the community.”
At a football game in 2006, Markette sat with assistant principal Chris Farabee (now one of his assistant coaches) and principal Dr. Fred Deprez. The academy idea had floated between Markette and Farabee, but when they mentioned it to Deprez, he told them to come up with a business plan and they’ll meet again the following Monday.
That meeting went well, the Chandler school district eventually gave them the green light, and the school-wide academies were born.
On the field, a daily soccer class runs for an hour in the mornings (two hours on Thursdays). All kids at the school can sign up for the class since it counts for a physical education credit.
No kids are cut from the soccer program if they want to try out, so there are a couple JV teams that travel to matches (Thompson said 10 of his girls in the academy don’t play on a school team).
Kiyan Pirgheybi was barely a sandlot soccer player before high school, but after he became a goalkeeper in the academy, learned about footwork and agility and grew to 6-foot-3, the junior is expected to be a first-team all-Fiesta Region pick.
Both teams believe they are state championship-caliber teams, and the next four days will determine that.
That’s all part of the “plan,” but with or without a trophy on Saturday night, it won’t end.
“It goes beyond kicking the ball,” Thompson said. “It’s about educating them and having them all year. In practice time you can only teach so much.”