BY JEFF FALK
Whether it’s at an early age or takes place blatantly within the halls of a high school, our sports culture has fostered a certain level of competition for scholastic student-athletes. The ferocity of that competition seems to hinge upon the size of the school, the nature of the sports programs involved and those who head them.
Locally, Elco High School is unique in that during the Fall season, the boys’ soccer program and the footbal program have each enjoyed varying amounts of success. Over the years, the two programs have discovered some middle ground, and peacefully co-existed to the point of cooperation.
“I think Mark (Evans) and I have always had a good freindship,” said Mike Seigfried, who recently retired after 26 seasons as the Raiders’ head soccer coach. “We had one or two run-ins, but I respect Mark and I think he respects me. We were trying to do the best we can for our programs.”
“I was sad when I learned of his retirement,” said Evans of Seigfried. “Mike and I have had a great working relationship. I think from the beginning it was good. There was some animosity, but not by the coaches. I always told our kids, ‘Until we match their success, you don’t say a thing.'”
Soccer is king in the Elco school district. It always has been. Remember that the Raiders were playing soccer before the football program was founded.
But through hard work, dedication and some well-placed words, Evans has done a good job of carving out a place for football in the eastern part of the county.
“I think there’s competition for athletes everywhere,” said Evans. “Every program is hurting for numbers, or would like more.
“We’re all on the same team, whether we’re playing soccer or football,” Evans continued. “It’s nver been about us versus them. I’d like to build a pogram like the Elco boys’ soccer program. Our working relationship has been great. But I think we’re dealing with two types of athletes.”
“If there was a competition, I never competed for them (athletes),” said Seigfried. “You’ve got to do what you want to do. I think over the years there were players contemplating going to football. And there were kids who left and went on to football.”
Because the sheer nature of each game is differnt, more players are required to field a high school football team than a scholastic boys’ soccer squad.
Through the years, Raider football teams’ average number of participants have ranged from the high 30s to the low 40s. Elco boys’ soccer teams have numbered somewhere in the low 30s.
“I want more kids playing,” said Evans. “I want more kids involved. I’m always going to beat the bushes. I’m never going to be satisfied with our numbers, until I get 15 kids per class. That’s the master plan for the program.”
“There have been times when I’ve had kids come to me and said, ‘I want to focus on another sport. I want to go to work,'” said Seigfried. “I told them that if it’s in your heart you’ve got to do it. But we’ve never had a numbers problem.
“Somehow, some way, I think we need to get more kids involved with extra-curricular activities,” continued Seigfried. “At Elco, we need our kids to play two or three sports. Kids at bigger schools are specializing.”
Of course sharing athletes is always an option, but one that only goes as far as the football team’s place-kicker. This season, the Elco football team ‘borrowed’ senior midfielder Lucas Heck from the boys’ soccer team.
Putting soccer first and working with the football team whenever he got the chance, Heck booted a school-record 46-yard field goal to help the Raiders defeat Pequea Valley 10-7.
“Lucas was, first and foremost, a soccer player,” said Evans. “Any time it didn’t conflict with soccer, we wanted him at practice. I’d certainly like to continue this. Maybe this is new territory for us. If there’s a kid who has the desire, it’s my job to find a way. But kids like Lucas don’t come around every day. He does everything well.
“I know there’s a lot of opportunities out there for kids, whether it’s in football or soccer,” added Evans. “We’ve been so blessed with kids over the years. We always seem to have kids who have the aptitude and the ability.”
“I’ve always encouraged that. I’ve never discouraged that,” said Seigfried, of ‘crossing over’. “Lucas came to me and asked me if he could kick for the football team. I guess some of the kids are apprehensive. But I’ve always been supportive of it.
“I think it’s good for the kids,” Seigfried added. “If we can help them, that’s what it’s all about.”