Celebrating soccer at Gibbs

BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – To recognize the persevering efforts of the Gibbs High School boys’ and girls’ soccer teams, booster mom Angela Fletcher-Mavros organized an awards banquet March 5 at Empath Health. Fletcher-Mavros—whose daughter Alexa is a member of the girls’ team—wanted to reward the teams’ determination and showed determination of her own by appealing directly to the community to help put on the banquet at no cost to the parents or students.

“I wanted them to be rewarded for their efforts,” she stated, hoping the banquet will become an annual event.

Janice Starling-Williams, founder of All Kidney Patient Support Group, stepped up and secured the location of the banquet. All Kidney Patient Support Group provides kidney awareness and education for individuals at all stages of kidney disease, including pre- and post-transplant.

Diagnosed herself with kidney failure at the age 36, she warned the teens that high blood pressure can strike anyone, even at a relatively young age, and can lead to kidney failure.

“Do not think you’re immune,” she said. “You have to eat right. Do what’s right.”

In appealing to the community by sharing stories of the students’ diligence, Fletcher-Mavros said, she turned to the African American Graduates of 1975, Inc. (AAG ‘75), who agreed to finance the Gladiators’ banquet meal.

“It is an honor for us to sponsor the banquet for you all today,” said Sandra Fletcher, president of AAG ‘75. “As a group of young people you have shown perseverance, tenacity and dedication.”

Just as you stay on the field, she told the students, to win your first soccer game, you must stay in the game of life in order to be successful, to be productive law-abiding citizens.

“The game of soccer plays well into you being a very successful person in life because you know that it takes hard work,” Fletcher-Mavros said.

One of her community service-based organization’s themes is “building our future, believing in our youth,” she noted.

Judge Patrice Moore of the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court was on hand to offer encouragement to the members of the winless teams, stressed that it’s not really whether you win or lose but how you play the game.

“If you have a bad attitude on the field, you’re going to have it off the field as well,” she said. “It is not what you do on the soccer field, but how do you act at school, how you act in class, because you’re a student first and an athlete second.”

It doesn’t matter whether your team is last in the district, the grades are the important thing, she averred. Moore added that coaches should encourage students not only on the field but to encourage them academically as well—and not just to accomplish the bare minimum to be keep a spot on the team. Very few people can say they entered professional sports out of high school, so college is important even in a career path that involves sports.

In the case of an unforeseen injury, Moore stressed that students can’t get by on talent alone; they have to be able to get by on their grades. The judge lauded the teams’ perseverance and determination, and urged the students to have faith in themselves.

“It’s a sad situation that this is the first banquet that you guys have to honor yourselves,” she noted, “because if you guys can get on the field every game and have not won a game, and have to play your all, you guys should have been celebrated long ago!”

When the girls’ squad found itself without a head coach at the start of the year and consequently in danger of having to scrap the entire season, Kem Mosley offered to step in and take over the duties. Since Mosley is also the baseball coach at Gibbs, the school didn’t want to overload him by handing him the reins to yet another team. But only days later it was apparent that the school truly needed his help, and he officially became the girls’ soccer team coach. Mosley commented on the adjustment of learning the intricacies of another sport.

“I must say we definitely grew as the year progressed,” he pointed out. “There were a lot of challenges.”

But they were able to close out some games this season unlike last year, where the mercy rule prevented the game from even continuing to the second half. Given that many on the girls’ side didn’t have much experience, he said that the fact that they could compete, play defense and complete an entire game was definitely an improvement. Some of the girls are looking to play club soccer outside the school to develop their skills. Mosley noted that they’d also have off-season workouts in the fall.

“We look forward to another tremendous season moving forward,” he said. “And yes, we are going to close out some more games!”

James Ross, who coaches the volleyball team, also took over this year as soccer coach. When he was approached to be a coach, he said that he’d played soccer most of his life and he’d be happy to coach. Even before he knew he’d be the soccer coach, he noticed the love the boys had for the game, he said.

“Outside of the gym where we would go for volleyball practice,” he related, “I’d see a lot of them with a soccer ball, just playing with the ball, getting ready for the season without knowing if they were going to have a coach.”

He recognized the players there for their accomplishments, adding that though they didn’t win any games, the funny thing about success is that it’s very subjective.

“I gained a new respect for these players because every time they’d lose, they would just get back up, trying harder,” Ross said.

Mosely hopes that the banquet will help to give the students a moral boost.

“Any time you can be acknowledged for any accomplishment big or small,” he said, “it’s definitely something that’s uplifting.”

To reach Frank Drouzas, email fdrouzas@theweeklychallenger.com

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