As another busy school year winds it’s way towards the finish line, it is also that glorious season in the soccer world, otherwise known as “tryout time.”
It’s that time of the year when every sane person sits back in amazement and watches the biggest snake oil salesmen in the business put in passionate, fear-inducing calls to the parents of nine year olds about how their choices could cause irreparable damage to their futures, and parents rip their otherwise happy children off of teams in the search of greener pastures. It’s an ugly time of the year that I think most, with integrity and a respect for the game, wish they could close their eyes and fast forward through, and wake up once the madness ends.
Sometimes it feels like youth soccer is a microcosm of a larger problem that is pervasive in North American society in general: being a part of a massive rat race in the direction of a destination that most of us have no idea why or towards what, we are running breathlessly towards.
But let’s take in youth soccer, that within all this tryout madness, the opportunities that parents fear making the wrong choice about, all this parading around to different teams, all this fear, is centered around placing children in the right path in order to play college soccer.
At this point, I’d like to have enter stage left, Haley Wheeler and the Wheeler family.
When we started running our program in 2011, Haley was a gangly seventh grader playing for her town travel team. She didn’t have much in the way of skill, but immediately she stood out for her work ethic, willingness to learn, and her heart and determination. She was the kid asking questions, practicing by herself when the other kids were talking, and whose bright smile and eagerness made her a total pleasure to work with and be around.
Yet, even better than Haley, were her parents, Chris and Linda. Even though they were raising five kids that Haley was the oldest of, they rarely made their presence felt. The rare times would be nights like the ones when we played pick up soccer until late on a Sunday night and Chris was there at the end with wings he picked up at the local spot for all the kids and coaches to devour, refusing to take a penny from anyone.
Apples don’t fall far from the tree, and like Haley was the model citizen as a player, her parents are the kind of people that every coach wishes that they could clone: supportive, positive, and secure in the knowledge that their child “making it” would have nothing to do with their maneuvering or being on the “right” team or track, and more to do with the internal drive and willingness to train that is found solely within their kid’s own ambitions.
Because of Haley’s drive, at the beginning of her junior year, the kid that only four years before was a gangly travel player with not much in the way of skill committed on almost a full athletic and academic scholarship to a D1 school. The entire Wheeler family and story one that I wish I could put on a hypothetical billboard as a lesson to everyone that is involved in this crazy youth soccer rat race as something to consider.
Yet that is not why I am writing this blog.
Last fall, after knowing Haley and her family for a couple of years, Haley’s mom approached us after we had a team meeting to discuss the year and asked us if we could talk. She explained matter of factly, that Haley’s little sister, 12 year old Chelsea who was often seen on the sidelines of our practices and games, with a book in her hand and smile on her face, hadn’t been to school in a couple of years or eaten solid food because she was waiting for a rare intestinal transplant.
She explained that once those organs were made available, herself and Chelsea would need to leave immediately for Pittsburgh where they would spend almost a year, away from Haley’s Dad and their other four kids. She asked if we wouldn’t mind if that happened, if Haley stayed with us when we travelled to tournaments.
We were stunned that with something so major happening in the family, that we had absolutely no idea; nothing was ever said, or seemed amiss. Haley was always at every team function and the whole Wheeler family was one that could always be counted on with a smile on their faces, and demonstrative of the kind of positive, make-the-best-of-everything character that makes everything they are a part of better.
A baseball teammate of Haley’s younger brother’s, father has started a gofundmecampaign in the family’s honour, and is running a half-marathon in support of the family.
For anyone that wishes to contribute to Chelsea and the Wheeler family, this is the link: Click Here
And to everyone that feels the stress from this soccer tryout rat race, may Haley Wheeler and the Wheeler family be the role model for all of us on the keys to being successful and “making it” at anything: hard work, perseverance, character, integrity, humility and positivity. And may little Chelsea get the transplant and opportunity to experience a life that most of us take for granted, with the ability to eat and go to school with her friends again.