Young and old came to support Oyster River’s varsity soccer teams at Youth Night, Thursday, October 4th. The special night was hosted by Oyster River’s Student Athlete Leadership Team (SALT) at the high school athletic fields. Future Bobcats were encouraged to come cheer on their favorite players and enjoy backyard games, food, facepaint, raffles, and fun.
The night kicked off with the lady Bobcats scoring two goals in the first half against the Kingswood Knights. Meanwhile, young fans cheered from the sidelines, rooting for the girls with posters. Blake Cassamas (7) jumped up and down as he watched the girls play. Cassamas explained that he has been playing soccer himself for approximately four years and hopes to play for the high school’s team one day. “I like the whole game really. My mom said I might make it as a freshman because I’m so good,” said the seven year old. Cassamas explained that he is looking forward to playing against different teams upon reaching the high school level.
SALT is a relatively new group at the high school made up of student athletes serving as leaders in their community. Aside from hosting the event, the SALT crew sold spiritwear and raffle tickets for a chance to win a “Superfan Starter Pack,” as well as conducted free face painting. The group aims to implement the NHIAA “Life of an Athlete” program and to foster school spirit. “It’s extremely important that student athletes get a say in how the school works and how they treat their athletes,” explained SALT member Shannon Foulds (‘20). Foulds has been part of the group since it first emerged last year, and is also a varsity volleyball player. She was pleased with the event’s turnout and felt that the night met and surpassed its expectations. “There aren’t many events that bring kids into the community. It’s also good that the kids get a sense of school pride before they enter the district,” said Foulds.
The night continued with games of cornhole and general camaraderie between the older and younger students. “We wanted to get some of the younger kids in the community to come out and watch the older kids play and get a chance to have some fun,” explained Andy Lathrop, Lathrop is the resident athletic director at OR and a SALT leader. Youth Night was created with the intention to bring together adolescents in a shared passion for sports. “The younger kids in the community look up to the high school kids and it gives them an opportunity to be here to cheer them on and watch some good soccer games,” concluded Lathrop. Whereas most of the fan section during games is typically dominated by high schoolers, elementary school age students were welcomed into the crowd.
As the boys team waited to head onto the field, they mingled and scrimmaged with their younger companions. Reed Leader (‘20) and Paidan Allen (‘20) encouraged the youngsters during a fierce game of keepaway between teammates Jesse Gushee (‘20) and Carl Zent (‘20). Leader said, “I think it’s good for the community to bring little kids together to show them how soccer’s played at the higher level.” Encouraging young athletes to keep playing soccer and staying motivated is what keeps Oyster River athletics strong and positive. Allen also felt that the little ones were excellent additions to the atmosphere: “they’re definitely more energetic than some of our fans.”
By the half time break, the OR girls were in lead by two, as the youth ran excitedly to the penalty line for a chance to shoot on the boys varsity goalkeepers, Nick Cornejo (‘19) and John Kell (‘21). “You could see how much the kids look up to what it is to be a ‘varsity player.’ Each one of the kids’ eyes would light up when their turn came. And no matter the outcome, we cheered them on and had fun,” commented Cornejo. One by one, the kids took a shot at the goalies and the few who scored were ecstatic. Shortly after, the game resumed and within the first five minutes of the second half, the Bobcats had scored another goal.
By the end of the first game, the high school athletes and ORYA athletes had gotten their fair share of fun. Winning 6-0, the girls walked off the field to be met with the energetic and cheerful liveliness of the youth. Fresh from the game, Iris Yu (‘20) believed that the tikes had brought a positive energy to the field and had added to the atmosphere. “It helped us play better because soccer is definitely a mentality thing and when you go out to the field, you have to have a positive mindset to play well. Seeing the kids have fun really encouraged me to play better… and they were really cute.”
All in all, the night turned out as a huge success for the Oyster River athletics community and SALT. Lathrop hopes to extend Youth Nights into the winter and spring sports seasons to create more positive experiences. Cornejo concluded by saying, “No matter how young you are, the beautiful game will always be something you can bond over. I hope that every one of those kids goes on to pursue soccer and play throughout high school because it’s a great hobby and a great way to grow as person and a teammate.”