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By RUSSELL TURNER
It’s been a few years in the making and it took a lot of big dreaming, arm twisting, cooperation and more than a couple of booster club fundraisers, but the Greene County High School soccer program finally has its very own facility.
The school officially opened the new complex last Thursday with key region matches against Stone County. The Tomcats came out on top, but fans were treated to two great matches that required extra time to decide. And, despite the outcomes on the pitch, former and current Wildcats, fans and everyone associated with the program had plenty to be excited about.
Head women’s coach Janna Sullivan Maxwell has more time in Wildcat blue than anyone else associated with the program. She was a member of the first-ever GCHS team, played five years for the Lady Cats, and has been their coach since 2014. So, needless to say, Thursday night’s milestone was important for her.
“If you would have told me as an eighth grader on the first high school team that I would become the coach of the very team I was playing for and be a part of opening our very own complex, I would have said that I had bigger aspirations,” Sullivan said. “Now being there Thursday night I knew that there wasn’t anything more important to me than those girls on our new field playing the game I so desperately love.”
“The little girl inside me that played for GC so many years ago was jumping for joy and cheering ever so proudly. God knew all along where I was supposed to be and all the glory is His. Our players will tell you the same thing.
We are so very blessed to be able to add value to our school and community by opening this new facility.”
The dream of a stand-alone soccer facility is nothing new. It has been in the works for some time, but was kicked into high gear with the arrival of head men’s coach Paul Martin, who joined the program in 2016. A former collegiate coach at Pearl River Community College and a longtime coordinator and coach of youth developmental leagues on the Gulf Coast, Martin pushed the issue and used his connections to find ways to help bring the dream to reality.
His excitement about the new facility was hard to hide on Thursday.
“We are truly blessed to have our own high school soccer complex,” Martin told the Herald. “We have worked so hard for years to fundraise and attempt to improve our program.”
“The highlight of the night came when we recognized former players and coaches. So many quality players have come through the Greene County High School soccer program. We had so many positive remarks from all that attended. It was a great night despite losing both games in overtime. We look forward to finishing the season strong and finishing the complex for future Wildcats.”
Among those in attendance was former GCHS Coach Ron Mason, who coached the first-ever soccer team at the school. Mason flipped the coin for the first match and Dennis Cochran, who was the first men’s coach at the school, manned the press box and recognized the former Wildcats who were able to attend.
“We had a big turnout for the game,” Martin added. “So many wonderful people made this night possible from years of sacrifice and dedication, but we give all the Glory to God. We play our next home match against Poplarville on Jan. 6 and we hope to have another big crowd then.”
Years of fundraising and work by Martin, Maxwell and a host of volunteers were key to the facility being built. But there was also a sizeable investment from the Greene County School District.
Cochran, who along with being a former GCHS coach and longtime supporter of the program is also the chief financial officer for the school district, said the district has invested at least $150,000 in the soccer field. There was $20,000 to purchase, move and set up the locker room facilities which Martin arranged to acquire from PRCC when the Wildcats in Poplarville built their new facility two years ago. There was the investment of over $23,000 for the purchase and installation of an irrigation system and the turf grass that was sprigged on the field. Another $8,600 went toward the water well at the complex and the $97,096 for engineering and installation of lighting for the field. Cochran said a good portion of these expenditures were offset by donations from Southern Pines Energy Center and, of course, the Soccer Booster Club.
“This is a very exciting time for soccer in Greene County,” Cochran said. “Second generation players are now playing recreational league soccer and will soon become Wildcats themselves.”
“So many people deserve credit for the introduction and growth of the soccer program over the years. I am happy for the current coaches and players and look forward to even greater things to come for GCHS soccer.”
Greene County Supt. of Education Charles L. Breland agreed.
“The board of education has been financially committed to developing the new soccer complex and we are very excited to see it finally become a reality,” Breland said. “There is still work to do, but having this new complex will prevent overuse of the turf on the football field and, more importantly, provide for continued growth and improvement for our soccer program as a whole.”
“We are very appreciative of those individuals, parents, and businesses that have worked to make this all possible through donations, fundraisers and their time.”
Along with locker rooms for both teams, the complex features covered dugouts for competitors and a press box, filming station. But, Martin says one of the key things that sets it apart from others in the area is the regulation-size field, and the plans for the future.
“This field is not only a top class playing surface, but is 125×70 yards, which is collegiate size,” Martin added. “So many high school programs play on very narrow fields and that doesn’t help the players develop (into collegiate prospects).”
“We are hoping to add bleachers and a scoreboard for next season. We are just getting started.”
Sullivan agrees that the new field gives her players a potential advantage in their development, but believes the new complex provides much more than just a place for GCHS student-athletes to play soccer.
“Success and progress aren’t always measured in wins and losses,” Sullivan added. “Sometimes it is about teaching life lessons that can change the course of a young lady or young man’s life.”
“If we can make a difference in one player, it’s worth it all, and the new complex is just a greater way to ensure the legacy and success of this soccer program.”