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  A Soccer Community

Coaching stability has created a tradition of success at Community School in Ketchum, where 65 of the 157 students play soccer.

By: Will Hoenike
Published: 9/3/2018 3:30:15 PM

When people talk about some of the best athletic programs in the state of Idaho, there are some predictable current answers, like Coeur d’Alene football or Timberline baseball. There are some historical ones that are honored by the IHSAA each year. Then there are some that don’t always leap to mind, but they exist.

Enter the Community School soccer program, nestled quietly in the shadow of Dollar Mountain in Sun Valley, where 65 of the school’s 157 students play on either the boys or girls team this year.

“We try to make their high school career positive and rewarding,” Community School boys head coach and athletic director Richard Whitelaw said. “Sometimes it's not all about the wins, more about loving the game & representing the school with pride.”

The wins come in bunches for the Cutthroat program, though, with each team entering the Labor Day holiday weekend with a perfect 5-0 record on the pitch. The boys have outscored their five opponents by a combined score of 19-3, while the girls are blistering the nets to the tune of a 31-2 cumulative score through five contests.

“I think success also breeds success and excitement,” said girls head coach Kelly Feldman. “The kids look forward to playing high school soccer.”

And who wouldn’t look forward to it with the kind of success Community School routinely has. Community School is a 1A Division 1 school, but there’s no 1A Division 1 soccer classification in Idaho, so the Cutthroats play at the 3A level. Despite the enrollment disparity, the Community School boys have qualified for five consecutive state tournaments, finishing second in both 2015 and 2016. Then, last fall, the Cutthroats reached the semifinals again, only to fall to eventual state champion Weiser in penalty kicks. The ensuing third-place game also went to penalty kicks and Community School was edged again by Snake River.

Meanwhile, the Community School girls program has reached the state tournament an astounding 17 consecutive times. The girls are still searching for that elusive first state title banner to take back to Sun Valley with them, but Feldman’s girls are in the running year after year. The girls finished second in 2012, 2013 and 2016 and has also finished third on two occasions so, like the boys, they’re knocking on the door just about every year.

How does a small school, regularly playing against larger schools, create that kind of winning culture? For starters, stability. Whitelaw is in his 27th season as the boys head coach and Feldman is in her 18th season as the girls head coach. Consistent coaching and consistent messaging breeds consistent results and, in the case of Community School, the results have been strong year-in and year-out.

It’s not a stretch to say the hot starts could lead to return trips to the 3A state tournament for both programs in October, either. The boys return junior Cash Dart, who earned All-State honors as a sophomore, and goalkeeper Mikel Sanchez-duPont among a host of other players from last fall’s team that nearly reached the state title game. The girls return senior All-Stater Lily Fitzgerald, already the school’s all-time leading goal-scorer (she netted an astounding 51 goals last fall as a junior) and senior Eliza Marks on defense to key their fast start.

Another key component that, according to both Whitelaw and Feldman, helps the school’s program flourish is a no-cut policy. The boys currently have 34 players in the program and the girls 31, providing valuable depth within in the program over the course of the season on a year-to-year basis.

“We don't cut any players and find will a spot for them to participate, regardless of ability,” Whitelaw said.

Feldman echoed that sentiment.

“The kids look forward to playing high school soccer,” Feldman observed.  “We will split into a travel and non-travel team but we aim to have every kid get some varsity time, especially as JV games are hard to come by.”

The 3A boys and girls state soccer tournaments will be held October 18 – 20 at the Sunway Soccer Complex in Twin Falls.


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