Some coaches might get upset, but Gwynn Park boys soccer coach Willie Ibarra is grateful when the cross-country team runs through one of his practices. And a different coach might get annoyed, but Ibarra doesn't mind that his trip home takes twice as long as it did before he began coaching last season--even though he lives in the same house.
The interruptions and longer commute may seem inconvenient. But Ibarra uses them to recruit and keep players on Gwynn Park's soccer team, which has struggled in the past to fill its roster.
Gwynn Park is not alone. While some high schools in the Washington area have to turn away potential soccer players, many others have problems finding them. For every Wilson or Blair--where 50 or 60 boys come out for soccer--there's a Gwynn Park, where a coach such as Ibarra hopes a cross-country runner likes what he sees as he runs past.
Senior Ricky Harris was one of those athletes. He switched from cross-country to soccer last year and wound up being Gwynn Park's leading scorer with seven goals, even though he had not played competitive soccer in about eight years.
"Ricky looked like a good athlete, and I noticed he would look over at our practices when he was doing training runs," Ibarra said. "One day he told a few of our guys he was going to quit cross-country and was thinking about trying soccer. That was all I needed to hear. I told him he had the size and speed to help our team and he decided to try it."
Ibarra also looks at sign-up lists that eighth-graders fill out before they leave middle school. If a student said he was interested in soccer but does not attend the first few practices, Ibarra calls him to find out why.
That was how he landed starting defender Cosley Pinnock last year. Pinnock had signed up when he was in the eighth grade, but did not attend practices as a freshman because he could not find a ride home. Ibarra quickly found a solution--he volunteered to drive Pinnock home.
"I always liked soccer, and since my family is from Jamaica almost all of them used to play it," Pinnock said. "But I never thought I would be able to play since we lived so far away and I had no ride home. . . . [Ibarra] goes way out of his way for me to be part of the team."
Coaches cite several reasons why some schools struggle to fill out their soccer rosters. At Maryland public schools and most Washington area private schools, soccer and football are played during the same season. Ibarra and former Hammond coach Ricky Corkran said they lose players every year to the football team.
High Point Coach Kevin Griffith said his school often has international transfer students who like the game, but don't know much about the school's extracurricular activities.
And at many schools, soccer simply is not a popular sport--forcing coaches to find creative ways to build their teams. Often they wait until the eve of the season opener to finalize their rosters.
The easiest way to identify potential soccer players is through gym teachers who see the kids in competition. Corkran teaches physical education at Hammond and said he watches the class soccer games closely to see if there are any skilled players.
Griffith relies on High Point's foreign language teachers to point him to students who have an interest in soccer but either do not know where to try out for the team or think it is too late.
"We get at least one player a year that way," Griffith said. "It does not always work out, but sometimes we get a pretty good player. None of the players on the team was mad that the new kids had missed two-a-days and conditioning--they were just happy to have more guys on the team."
Eleanor Roosevelt Coach George Kallas said he sometimes gets players because of Principal Gerald Boarman's morning announcements to the school.
Boarman "makes sure to announce when there are soccer games and how we did when he makes his morning announcements over the loudspeaker," Kallas said. "We have a school with 3,100 kids and I cannot keep up with all of them. A lot of times kids come to my office and say they found out about the soccer team because they heard Dr. Boarman's announcement that morning."
At Gwynn Park and other schools throughout the area, the coaches' efforts are not lost on the players they find.
"I was pretty tired of running cross-country, since it was the same thing every day," Harris said. "I needed more of a challenge and I really like what Coach Ibarra does with the team. . . . Basketball was always my first love. But soccer is really, really close now."
Watch for The Post's previews of other fall seasons:
Today: Boys soccer
Wednesday: Field hockey
Sept. 14: Cross-country
Sept. 15: Tennis