By Max Goodwin
Grandview High School soccer opened the season with wins at Center, 3-1, and at Ruskin, 6-1. They looked like a team that knows the game.
They controlled possession and played well as a group. They played smart soccer, making well-timed runs and skilled passes. This isn’t the way it’s always been.
Three years ago their coach was executive director of the Topeka Soccer Club. But Andrew Fletcher missed his days teaching in the classroom and coaching high school soccer after 16 years at Raytown High and Fort Osage High.
Grandview had a position open for a freshman social studies teacher and at the same time was looking to make soccer more of a priority. Fletcher was hired as a teacher and asked to run both the boys and girls teams. He jumped at the chance.
Grandview had struggled to find a coach who stayed in the position for more than a year. When Fletcher was hired, he was the fourth head coach in four years.
It took time to build trust, and the soccer team decreased in size during the pandemic, but the core group is now solid. They are both teammates and friends.
“We actually play a lot together even before the high school season,” Junior Arturo Ramirez said. “We all just play for fun, and I’m pretty sure that’s how it reflects on the field, that we’re all enjoying each other.”
Most of the team is Hispanic and grew up with soccer as the primary sport in their families. Fletcher grew up around soccer as well, or football as it’s called where he’s from in Manchester, England. He came to the United States with British Soccer Camps when he was still in college in 1989. After graduating, he moved here permanently.
Fletcher and his team come from different backgrounds but find common ground around the game of soccer.
“They come in with their different gear on,” Fletcher said of the kids having their various favorite teams. “They’ll come in my classroom after school and we’ll put highlights on.” Before taking on Ruskin, without a JV game scheduled for the day, the team gathered around a video game console and played FIFA in Fletcher’s classroom after school.
They are a dedicated group, he says. Many of them have part-time jobs, yet work hard in the classroom and still manage to practice soccer. Sometimes Fletcher can’t get them to stop practicing.
“We end up spending 45 minutes to an hour after practice just playing small-sided games and just having fun with it. So, it’s what they love to do.”
There are no specific goals for the season, but team members are winning just by showing up on a regular basis. Soccer keeps them in school and keeps their grades up, Fletcher said. “Winning is passing classes, getting on the bus, participating, respecting your game, representing your school. That’s how we’re measuring success right now.”
Ramirez and other students were proud of how the team played against Center. Junior Diego Alvarenga smashed a ball from 30 yards out past the goal. “He’s the heart of our team,” Ramirez said.
As an Englishman, Fletcher has tried to push the kids towards English Premier League games, but he says they prefer La Liga in Spain and Liga MX in Mexico. Lately, however, Ramirez is following the Premier League since one of his favorite players, Christiano Ronaldo, just transferred there from Madrid.
Whatever league or club they like, Fletcher is happy to see the students showing up. And Grandview is happy to have found a coach they can count on to do likewise.