With an increasing number of students interested in playing a sport it has never offered, Seneca was looking for a local co-op partner in soccer.
With a soccer team that went 0-20 in 2012 while drawing from a pool of just its own 180 students, one could say that Newark needed such a partner almost as badly.
And so Newark and Seneca — who maintain a rivalry, albeit an often friendly one, in sports like basketball, baseball and softball — are teaming up. The two schools will co-op in boys soccer, though girls are allowed to join, as well, beginning with the 2013 season. Seneca’s board approved the agreement at its July 17 meeting. Newark will host the co-op, and all home matches and practices will be played at its field, with participating Seneca students responsible for their own transportation to Newark.
Wanting to cooperate
According to Newark Athletic Director Carol Navarro, discussions about a soccer co-op between the two schools started during the second half of the 2012-13 school year.
“Probably February, the early part of the year. We heard from (Seneca Athletic Director) Steve Haines,” Navarro said. “What we thought was that this was something that could work.”
Haines says the idea for a co-op was originally Newark’s. It proposed a two-way agreement, with Newark students able to play on the Seneca football team and vice versa for soccer. The football co-op did not work out, for reasons detailed in a concurrent Herald story, but Seneca had strong motivation to enter into a soccer agreement.
“The idea of a soccer co-op was something we did go ahead with because, of course, we’re wanting to meet the needs of our own student-athletes,” Haines said. “This is an opportunity for them to be able to compete in something we don’t offer. We’ll be able to see what the interest level is in our kids.”
J.R. Veliz was an assistant coach for the Norsemen during their winless season in 2012. He says he was “excited” to hear the co-op would happen, with the expectation that he would have a much larger roster to work with in his first season as head coach.
“We (Newark) have athletes who want to be there, that want to play, but we didn’t have the numbers,” Veliz said. “Now we have a group of Seneca players coming in, and the athletes over there, like the athletes here, want to be there, but now we have the numbers with the two groups together.”
It has been several years since Newark was last able to field a sophomore team in soccer, which means its varsity has often consisted of a disproportionately high percentage of underclassmen.
“We’re always low in numbers in the fall for soccer. This will boost our numbers and give us a little bit of depth,” Navarro said. “For the team itself, depending on just what those numbers are, we may be able to play a JV schedule.”
Meeting and meshing
Earlier this summer, Seneca hosted an informational meeting for perspective players. Thirteen of its students attended. Veliz says they were given information about summer open-field workout sessions, which are now underway.
Tom Bartkus, who will soon begin his freshman year at Seneca, attended the meeting and says he has yet to miss an open field. The combination of Newark holders with Seneca imports has gone relatively well so far, he says.
“It’s pretty fun. I’ve been able to get back to kicking the ball and getting some exercise,” Bartkus said. “It feels like everyone is pretty nice to each other. There are no conflicts. It seems pretty good.”
Bartkus has played soccer both recreationally and for club teams like the Plainfield Legends and the Chicago Fire Juniors West. He thought he would never have the chance to play prep soccer.
“I was kind of upset. All my buddies on travel teams had high school teams to play on,” Bartkus said. “Right now, my club doesn’t offer a fall session. This gives me a chance to stay in shape and get back to kicking the ball.”
Because the co-op was formed after school had let out for the summer, Veliz hopes more Seneca students will join the team by the time practice officially begins Aug. 14. He encourages potential players to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (630) 664-8412, or to contact Haines at Seneca.
“That’s the thing. I don’t know how many kids don’t know. Word of mouth is the only thing we’ve had so far,” Veliz said. “I have a feeling that once school starts and we have our official meeting, a lot more people who didn’t know before will know, and some of them will be interested.”
One drawback for Seneca in Newark being its co-op partner is that Newark does not field a girls soccer team. Girls are permitted to play on its boys team, which will remain true for Seneca students.
“I understand the frustration,” Haines said. “We had a fairly large contingent of girls that were interested in soccer. Six girls were at the meeting, and several of them didn’t even turn in the information sheet after they found out the details.”
A girls soccer program has never been formed at Newark, Navarro says, because there has never been enough demand. There is the potential that a long-term co-op with Seneca — the current agreement spans just two years, though it will automatically renew if neither side backs out — could contribute to the addition of a program.
“Logistically, if we had the numbers to field (a girls team), it’s something we would have to talk about,” Navarro said. “Several teams in the Little 10 (Conference) do have girls on the boys team. (Hinckley-Big Rock) does have a separate girls program.”
Haines says that a drawback for some of the girls who might be inclined to join the co-op team is that club teams for girls typically play in the fall.
“They can’t do both,” Haines said. “It’s no different from girls who have to make a choice between volleyball at their high school or volleyball with their club, or girls who want to play softball on a travel team and have conflicts with their high school summer team. We’re thankful at Seneca that we do not get a lot of that. It’s a bigger problem in the suburbs.”