Community News Sports

Then they were Lions

Atmore U-14 Lions
The Lions, from left, kneeling, Nolin Godwin, Caitlyn Gibson, Kole Stuart, Luis Garcia and Brandon Ferguson; standing, Ayden Hinderer, Assistant Coach Greg Gibson, Isabella Sanders, Eli Covington, Owen Gibson, Adam Peacock, Jesus Chavez, and Coach Gordon Godwin.

By Gordon Godwin

Special to Atmore News

Each season Atmore soccer begins anew as we don’t know who will sign up, [who] the players will be, how many players we will have, how many teams we will have or even what color our uniforms will be for that particular season. Even after the number of players and number of teams are decided, we don’t know the skill level of new players and how the players will mesh together as a team. So, it is a wonderful and exciting opportunity to understand and develop the identity of each individual based on his or her own unique personality and develop the identity of the team as those personalities mesh together as a whole from the beginning of each season.
Some of our players earn nicknames over the course of a season or several seasons that personify their own unique style, attitude and skill set developed as they progress. They wear these earned nicknames as badges of honor. This is something that only the team members share amongst themselves as they develop their identity within the team. Some of the players gain nicknames of the stars they admire and emulate that can be followed right now in the World Cup. This Atmore team has its very own Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar and Sergio Ramos.
This Atmore team dominated the competition this season and won a championship. But they haven’t always been dominant.
You see, to understand this team is to understand where they came from and how they grew into the skillful players and fierce competitors that they have become. They didn’t always win. In seasons past, a lot of the leaders on this team have played against older and bigger opponents. They have played against teams with a lot more players to sub in and out. The opposing teams would rotate fresh legs in and out while our Atmore team was not only younger and smaller players, but with barely enough members to field a team.
Our Atmore players fought. This team has lost a lot of games in the past … BADLY, with scores like 0-9 and 0-10. Sometimes, we would just stop keeping score. This team would get down, lose their drive, lose their determination and lose their will to compete. They have endured some long hard seasons.
Then something clicked. Something changed within each one of them. By facing such impossible odds and having to play over their heads every week, this team began improving greatly from week to week. They were pushing themselves to get better. They pushed themselves regardless of the score. They would show up to games knowing beforehand that it was impossible to win and yet they would rush the field of competition ready to play.
When a game’s outcome has been decided long before the game is over, it is no longer about the game. Nor is it about winning or losing. It then becomes about something much more. It becomes about character and integrity. It is no longer about proving anything to anyone else. It is about proving something to yourself by finishing something you started, refusing to give up, give in or surrender no matter what. Because at the end of a game, an individual’s character is revealed. Competition can bring out the best or the worst in people. Whether as a coach, parent or player, it takes a lot of games and a lot of winning and a lot of losing to develop your character, integrity and self-restraint to become a good loser as well as a good winner. It is obvious when you see someone experience a win or a loss if they are not accustomed to it. They don’t know how to act.
Although this team has lost a lot of games in the past, they began to win something much more valuable at a very early age. They began developing character. They began developing integrity. They developed self-respect and self-restraint. As their character grew, their hunger and will to win grew stronger than the disappointment of losing. They seemed resolved to the fact that the only way to overcome defeat is to become stronger and better and not quit but to keep fighting. They learned that victory is not easy, nor is it free. It must be earned, and it comes with a price. Victory in our players’ games was normally there for the older and more experienced teams that we played against, because those players have put in the time and effort, they have the age advantage and developed the skill to earn it. But our team was gaining the necessary experience and skill and paying their dues while learning the cold hard lessons of sowing and reaping. Their season of harvest was soon to come.
This team began developing an air about them. They exuded a mental and physical toughness that would not be deterred by any team, any odds or any adversity. As coaches and parents, we began to see a team that would never quit, never lay down and never surrender. They became a team that would give everything they had because of a pride in their hard work. They understood the integrity of giving everything they have. They understood that there is no point in doing anything if you are not going to give it your best. They began to inspire us as parents and coaches. Parents and coaches of other teams that would beat us badly would come up to us and tell us how amazed they were at how we played. The referees would comment on how tough our players were and how they couldn’t believe our players could run a whole field for a whole game with no subs on hot, hot summer days. Our players had to learn to run the whole field, because their only hope was to try to overwhelm and outlast the older bigger teams and try to outnumber them on any given area of the field. They played 11 players in a way that looked like 15 players the way each of them covered the field. This team was beginning to develop an identity.
Last season was a turning point for this team as they were approaching the edge of greatness. The season began and the team picked up where they had left off. They were a group of 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds who were still playing older competition as the only age group they could compete in was a U-15 age group, so although they closed the gap some in age they were still competing against 13- and 14-year-olds. They were a group that was giving the same effort every game for the entire game, without slowing down and without getting tired. They didn’t play with attachments to outcomes and winning and losing, but they played for the sheer love of the game and to test their own limits of just how far they could go. Nothing phased them … except maybe their jersey color. Once again, no blue, no red – they were issued mint green jerseys, but they became machine-like in their ability to show no pain, no fear, and no fatigue. They worked together in unison and each player fit together and performed his or her job with precision. This team developed the identity of a “Green Machine” that would outplay older teams and outlast them despite the fact that the opposing team had more subs. They would rotate a player in, one of our players would wear him out, then they would rotate another in and our same player would wear that player out was well. They began to win games by sheer will. Now, they were on the edge of becoming champions.
As this spring season began, and the older teams that this Atmore team had been facing had aged up to a U-18 age group and the next youngest age group was U-14. This age group fit our players perfectly. They were finally competing in an age group that was perfect for their ages so they were competing against other players their own age.
This team had a strong foundation of great tenacity and integrity. They also had a confidence that they could compete with any team regardless of age, size or ability. They began to develop real skill to accompany their God given talent and excellent character forged from great adversity.
They received their jerseys and once again, no red, no blue but bright yellow. But from the very first game, this team took over, asserted their will and won 13-1 to dominate the competition. They began to look like predators in search of prey. In the second game of the season, in the middle of a 9-1 victory, an identity began to surface. This team took over the field of play as if it was their own territory and they overwhelmed their opponents.
Somehow, as this group conquered the field of play in the hot sunlight in their yellow jerseys, they were very reminiscent of a pride of lions on the Serengeti. The females hunted their prey and the males claimed and protected the field as their own territory. Thus, it became apparent that this group of kids transformed into a pride of LIONS on the soccer field. They embraced this identity. To conquer, to be proud, to play with honor and integrity, to never give up, and to overcome adversity. They now understood, that they did not have to accept anything less than greatness. You see, now they were finally ready to handle greatness as they knew what it meant to lose and lose with character knowing they had given their best. They also knew what it was to win with character and integrity. But now, winning was what they expected of themselves. They knew that they were capable of greatness. So, the decision to choose greatness was also a decision to not accept anything less than greatness. Their wills and character had been forged in the fires of defeat and adversity. They were now ready to be the champions that they were becoming.
As the Lions would face opponents, I would see the same trend with other teams that I saw with our team before we became Lions. We weren’t always Lions, we had to earn this identity. I saw so many players look discouraged and quit, even if they were still on the field and the game was still going, you could tell when a player or a team has already been defeated in their hearts and minds and lost their will to compete. That was so foreign to our players now. They had forgotten what it was like to consider giving up or to quit. I wanted so badly to tell the players on the other teams our story. I wanted to tell them to keep fighting, that a challenge is an opportunity to get better regardless of whether you win or lose. Without a great challenge there is no opportunity to achieve greatness. I wanted to tell them that our team has been there. I wanted to tell them that if you put in the effort that it will pay off. It may not be immediate, but anything worth having takes effort. Goals are not achieved overnight, but by a consistency of effort over a period of time.
I believe this team has learned a lot about character, hard work, consistency of effort, and paying their dues. Everything has a price – whether you want to make a purchase or achieve a goal. These are all principles that most older generations grew up knowing and accepting and applying to their everyday lives. It is just troubling that today’s society seems to believe in instant gratification. It’s not only troubling that young people expect to get what they want now. But they not only expect it now, they expect it to be free. So, when people don’t get what they want immediately, then they want to quit. The problem with that is quitting becomes acceptable. Once it becomes acceptable, it becomes easy. Even more dangerously, once it becomes easy, it becomes a habit. If you quit, you will never know if you could have achieved a goal or not. If you don’t quit, you never know what you may achieve one day.
This team was the oldest team from Atmore to compete in the tournament. This team is truly a testament to the success of the programs of Atmore Soccer, Inc. and the Atmore Area YMCA because they have grown up in the programs. They are truly the product of our local programs putting in a consistency of effort into our youth over a long period of time. The Lions are an example of what our younger soccer teams can accomplish as they grow and develop through Atmore Soccer, Inc. and the Atmore Area YMCA.
A special thank you goes out to Paul Chason, CEO of the YMCA, the board members and staff of the YMCA, Amore Soccer, Inc., and its officers including President Alex Alvarez and Treasurer Robbie Ferguson who has coached many of the players throughout their development. A special thank you is also owed to Atmore Soccer Inc. board members, coaches and staff.
As with pursuing any goal in life, our team faced some obstacles during the season. We lost one really good player early in the season due to injuries. We lost another key player in the middle of the season as he had to move. Also, one of the two high scoring players, Nolin Godwin, developed an overuse injury in his right knee and was told by doctors not to run or jump at all. This was three weeks out from the tournament. Once again, our team was not phased. Our other high scorer, Kole Stewart, continued to lead the scoring with Owen Gibson, Adam Peacock and Caitlyn Gibson stepping up to score goals in Nolin’s absence. Despite these setbacks, there was virtually no drop off in play and scoring.
The day of the tournament came and we played our first game, with Nolin being used sparingly to kick corner kicks and free kicks. In the first game he scored a hat trick (which is 3 goals) and had an assist to Kole Stewart on a corner kick despite not being able to run. Kole scored 2 goals, Adam Peacock scored 2 goals and Owen Gibson scored a goal. The Lions won that game 8-2 and advanced to the championship game as the only undefeated team in their age group.
They played the championship game and Kole led the scoring with a hat trick of his own. Other players scoring during the tournament were Owen Gibson with a hat trick in the championship game; Caitlyn Gibson and Brandon Ferguson scored 1 goal each. The Lions finished strong with a 7-0 win for first place and the championship.
Kole Stewart ended the season as high scorer with 26 goals. Nolin Godwin was the next high scorer with 23 goals despite missing games due to a knee injury. Owen Gibson – 15 goals, Adam Peacock – 9 goals, Caitlyn Gibson – 7 goals, Brandon Ferguson – 6 goals, and Eli Covington – 1 goal.
Brandon Ferguson led the team in goalie saves with Ayden Hinderer leading the team in goalie saves on tournament day retaining a shutout for the championship game. Nolin Godwin and Adam Peacock led the team in assists. Top defenders were Jesus Chavez, Eli Covington and Isabella Sanders. Luis Garcia was top defensive midfielder running down opposing team’s strikers and stealing the ball. The top offensive midfielders were Caitlyn Gibson and Owen Gibson who controlled midfield, attacked on offense as well as supported the defense.
Atmore U-14 Lions – Central Baldwin Youth Sports Association (CBYSA) champions for Spring 2018.