“Their captain stood there in the middle of the circle with the ball by his feet while he observed the field. This was his moment of glory: The first player in school history to have possession of the soccer ball in a game. This probably felt like the highpoint of his soccer career and possibly his life to that point…. In less than three seconds his moment was over. Our midfielder had run up in the guy’s blindside, stretched out and drilled the soccer ball. His follow-through carried into the player and planted him into the ground… His shiny new jersey was covered in dirt as when he hit the ground the hot summer’s dust kicked up around him. Less than two minute later we scored.”
Of all the levels of soccer in the United States, perhaps none is more baffling than high school soccer. Overshadowed by more popular sports and made redundant by club and select teams, high school soccer seems a pointless endeavor and an example of Americans trying to force the “World’s Game” into American notions of sport. However, in Rural America high school fields are the only place the game can be experienced live. If soccer is going to grow out of its image as a suburban or immigrant sport, then rural America is going to have to come on board as well. Is Rural America really ready for soccer? Is soccer really ready for Rural America?
“Off The Post” is the true story of a ragtag group of atypical Bible Belt American teenagers (plus one secular humanist Norwegian exchange student) and their coach. The kids aren’t stereotypes but they have to manage their way through a society full of them. They don’t come from a long line of soccer pedigree. They don’t get to be local celebrities for playing (that honor goes to the basketball team), none of them will ever play college soccer, and they don’t spend their springs training with a select team to perfect their skills. In fact, most of them will never kick a soccer ball outside of the school season. Their coach is worried less about winning than he is interested in making a new generation of American soccer fans and creating a place where the kids are free to be themselves. As this is a real story, not some stereotypical fantasy by a hack Hollywood writer, the season won’t end in a miracle run to the State Championship. However, they are having fun and they are learning the beautiful game, which can be downright ugly at times. While they are growing into adulthood they also, like their nation, are growing into maturity as soccer fans. Just don’t expect them to act like adults all the time (or rarely at all).
“Off The Post” is a microcosm of the sport’s growth in America’s heartland. From a time just a few years ago when nobody seemed to know anything about soccer to a current attitude that says, “Beware World: The Yanks Are Coming!” “Off The Post” also touches on what it means to be a rural American who has glimpsed what the rest of the world holds yet chooses to live in their hometown. The quirks of small town life are explored for each community the team will visit throughout the season, from a town commemorating the birth of the President of the Confederate States of America to a field that once graced baseball legends like Babe Ruth and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.
Rory Miller teaches in a rural high school and coached soccer for nine years. He is an avid reader of the English “Fan Lit” genre and is trying to develop America's own. This is his account of his final season coaching, a season full of highs and lows on the field while navigating a team full of “characters” in every sense of the word. In addition to his teaching credentials, he also has a Master’s Degree in History and is active in the online world of Soccer blogging.