When 14 Noel Hernandez was in elementary school, he wasn’t much into soccer.
“My dad wanted me to try out multiple sports, so I was doing basketball, tennis, soccer,” he said. “Soccer was really hard for me at the time. I wasn’t used to using my feet for sports.”
So, Hernandez turned to sports like basketball and football. But in his hometown of Palo Alto, Calif., those were the unpopular sports.
“Most of the kids there played soccer. It was next to Stanford campus,” which had become a soccer haven ever since the school hosted the World Cup in 1994.
“Everyone was playing,” Hernandez said. “There were always teams that got a lot of funding. It was popular all the time. There was a bunch of schools practicing, a bunch of soccer clubs — it was everywhere.”
It wasn’t until he turned 12, just a year before he moved into Florence, that he started playing in middle school with his friends.
“I really enjoyed it, and started getting into it more,” he said.
Now, it’s his sport of choice.
14-year-old Yoskar Delamora, on the other hand, grew up playing soccer.
“I got into soccer the first grade because my dad wanted me to play soccer. It was the first game I tried out, and I loved it. It’s just a really fun sport to play. I love scoring goals.”
Florence was bereft of soccer games. When he was little, Delamora was playing soccer with the Boys and Girls Club. By fifth grade, the Siuslaw Youth Soccer Association (SYSA) was in full swing and he joined right up.
“I got into that a lot!” he said. He did other sports during that period, such as wrestling in middle school.
And then I tried track,” he said. “I did it so I could be faster at soccer. I really like soccer.”
But the future of his soccer career wasn’t a sure bet. Without a high school soccer team, he feared that we would have been regulated to club games.
“It was very disappointing,” he recalled. “We have a lot of other sports — football, wrestling and track — but no soccer. It was very sad seeing that we didn’t have a [high school] program.”
Hernandez felt the same way when he moved to town.
“I was disappointed that there wasn’t a high school team,” he said. “I don’t think many people here play a lot. It’s not as popular here as places like California.”
When he first moved here, Hernandez spent most of his spare time practicing in Miller Park, either alone or with his father. They thought about joining clubs in Eugene which had larger teams, but the ride there was too long. It’s at that point he learned
He wanted to join a team, looking at the clubs in Eugene because “That’s where we were hearing there was a team forming.”
But the drive there was long, and Hernandez spent most of his time practicing in Miller Park either alone or with his dad. It was at that point his mom told him about SYSA. That’s where he started playing with Delamora, and the two became friends.
And it was also the year that Siuslaw High School started a pilot program for a JV team as both were going into their freshman year.
“It was very exciting because it was the year I got to play,” Delamora said. “I got to travel to other places and play against other teams, and that was very exciting to be a part of that, instead of no soccer in high school.”
Hernandez is particularly excited because they’re starting off as freshmen.
“We’re going to be through this program through all of high school. The other kids are juniors right now, which sucks because they’re really good players and they won’t be around.”
Delamora added, “I am so proud to play for my school. I want it to be big. I want varsity boys, varsity girls and two JV teams — all four individual sports.”
“I think it’s cool representing your school against teams that have been around for longer than we have,” Hernandez said. “We’re new to soccer at Siuslaw, while these other teams have been around for a while. Right now, we’re going on a 4-0 season. I think we’re doing well and proving to all the other schools that we really do have something special going. I think it’s really neat. I’m really excited for what the future holds for the next couple of seasons.”
If the program does succeed and a varsity program becomes a reality, Hernandez sees a lot of promise.
“I’m seeing a lot of good talented players here,” he said. “Younger players that are moving up. I’m excited to see what they’ll become. Hopefully, they’ll stick with soccer.”
And to help foster that, Hernandez and Delamora are going to have to be role models for the youth program. It’s not something that they have thought about a lot.
“Now that I think about it, that’s kind of weird,” Delamora said.
“Crazy,” Hernandez added. “I never thought I’d be in this position, you know? When I was playing club sports, which isn’t related to any school program. It was just us against other teams. I think it’s quite a bit of responsibility, because I want this program to succeed. We have to do our best to get the next generation of kids going and joining the program. That’s going to be hard.”
Hernandez stated that, from his perspective, not a lot of people think soccer is very exciting, compared to other sports.
“You don’t get to see people tackled by seven different dudes,” he said. “You don’t see that sort of action in soccer. But it is really hard. Soccer fans, they play the sport, so they know from experience that it’s really difficult. Hopefully, they’ll stick with the sport. When I was younger, I didn’t stick with it too long.”
He also pointed out that the crowds for their games have been thin, to which Delamora mentioned, “We haven’t had a lot of home games.”
The crowds they do get are mostly just parents, traveling long hours after work to watch away games. This will change on Oct. 12, when Siuslaw plays its first home game. For that game, Delamora and Hernandez hope to see a crowd of possibly hundreds, filled with SYSA players looking up to their new role models.
Delamora said that prospect is nerve-racking because “I’m scared of doing good. But, it’s not really about us, as much as it’s about them seeing this program that they can aspire to.”
As to what they hope to show those kids on the field?
“Soccer is unique, compared to everything else,” said Hernandez. “Using your feet and then using your mind to understand. I started watching a lot of professional soccer players and how they trained in Europe. It’s really complicated and difficult to understand how the game works. It’s perfect in Europe. But it’s really fulfilling playing soccer. It’s different than anything else I’ve ever done, and it’s really worth trying.”
Delamora added, “It’s a very fun sport. It’s very interactive. It’s just fun being a team.”
And working with a team is what soccer is all about.
“Gaining chemistry with your teammates,” Hernandez said. “That’s really hard to do. But when it works out, it’s awesome. And you just want to keep doing it over and over again.”
The Siuslaw High School JV soccer team will play its first — and only home game of the season — on Saturday, Oct. 12, against Waldport. The game will be at the high school, with kickoff starting at 10 a.m.
The team will also play in Junction City this Monday, Oct. 7, beginning at 4:30 p.m., with the final game of the season being played at Newport on Oct. 15, beginning at 4 p.m.