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by John G. Miller
South Harrison is making no apologies for having a co-ed soccer team instead of splitting into conventional all-girl and all-boy squads.
The Hawks aren't the first co-ed program, and probably won't be the last, as soccer struggles to gain a foothold.
"It's just great that they've got it started," Principal Jerry McKeen said. "Numbers are why they're co-ed ... we didn't have enough for a boys team and a girls team. But, we hope to next year."
Soccer and South Harrison seem an odd mix. The Hawks long have been a football-driven school, thanks to the tradition established by former football coach and current Athletic Director Gary Barnette.
But like many other schools in the state, South Harrison has found that to serve its students, it has to give them more choices, athletically as well as academically.
"Soccer just gives more kids a chance to compete," McKeen said. "I don't think soccer and football compete for the same athletes very often."
This year's team has been fortunate to land some of the school's best athletes.
Seniors Kenny Bowers and Andrew Richards are both multi-talented. Bowers plays baseball and basketball while Richards is one of the state's best wrestlers.
"I used to play soccer as a kid," Richards said. "When they got the team started, I said why not. It's fun and it will keep me in good shape for wrestling."
While Richards would seem likely to be the most physical player on the team, that role often falls to one of the six girls, track star Andrea Lambert.
The junior hurdler takes soccer as serious as she does track, although she acknowledges her future will be in track.
"Track's more my sport, but I love to play soccer," Lambert said. "It's rough, but I like to play rough."
The mostly male opposing teams often taunt the Hawks, but usually find the girls to be an equal match, Richards said.
"Those girls have no fear," Richards said. "Other teams like to trash-talk, but after we whip them it's good to see the look on their faces. They don't have much to say then."
The Hawks started the season with two wins and are 2-1. They'll play their first of two home games on Oct. 6.
"The kids are having fun and they're learning," coach Frank Bowers said. "It's a good starting point, but we need more players, more people involved."
The program still has an identity crisis, Lambert said.
"There's still a lot of people who don't know about us," Lambert said.
"Next year we want to have a girls and a boys team. We've got to get a lot more people out."
"I think there might have been some resistance early from some of the football parents because of the field situation, and I can understand that," Richards said. "They don't want the field torn up.
"But the kids have always been supportive," Richards said. "I think it's catching on."