By Kim West
In a sports-driven community that has seen three high school teams claim state titles this year, becoming the first to accomplish an athletic feat doesn’t happen very often.
But for the first time in its recorded history, the Athens Parks and Recreation Department has a state championship in a team sport after the 9-and-under Athens All-Stars won the state soccer tournament on Nov. 17 in Dothan.
During Monday’s City Council meeting, city officials honored the All-Stars for their successful postseason run.
Athens advanced in the six-team, six-on-six tournament — sponsored by the Alabama Recreation and Parks Association — by blanking Eufaula, 6-0, and Alexander City, 5-0, and winning the semifinal, 9-0, against Dothan Blue.
Athens faced a tough finals opponent in Dothan Silver, which managed to keep the game at a 4-4 tie in the second half. But Manuel Felipe booted the game-winning goal to secure the trophy for Athens.
“In the second half, it just kept going back and forth, and then Manuel made the final shot for us,” said Athens All-Stars assistant Jony Gonzalez on Thursday.
Athens outscored its four opponents, 25-4, and used a strong defense anchored by Marlon Dindlebeck and Asa Savoie, who split time at sweeper on the back-line defense. Goalkeeper Emmanuel Garcia recorded three shutouts for Athens.
Gonzalez said the team savored the victory by eating at Golden Corral and managed to come together in its three practice sessions in between the end of the Parks and Rec regular season and the beginning of the state tournament.
He added that becoming the first Parks and Rec team to bring back a team trophy to the city was an exciting experience.
“I think it was amazing,” Gonzalez said. “The kids had a lot of fun and when they found out they were the first to do this, they were really excited.”
City officials also recognized two more Parks and Rec all-star teams, the 11-and-under boys and 9-and-under girls, for winning sportsmanship awards during the state soccer tourney.
The 11U boys, coached by Pam Bloodworth, Jeff Payne and Casey Lovell, included Juan Campuzano, Heath Carden, Gabriel Garnica, Luis Fernando Manuel, Jonathan Padilla, Jeffrey Payne, Lucas Rochell, Daylan Stanford, Kevin Suarez, Frankie Angel Vicente, Jackson Vicente and Nehemias Ordonez Vicente.
The 9U girls, coached by Omar Castrejohn, included Alyssa Boone, McKenna Burkett, Bryonna Castrejon, Paige Castrejon, Gabriela De La Cruz, Kinsley Green, Alba Haya, Lydia Lauderback, Elizabeth Leon, Ella Romine, Marilyn Swint, Roxanne Vicente, Soledad Ordonez Vicente and Morgan Stiles.
Parks and Rec Director Ben Wiley said about 320 children played in the soccer league sponsored by his department.
“From what we’ve been able to tell, this was the first time a team from Athens has won,” Wiley said. “We are just proud and overjoyed to have the kids win and also behave as well as all of our teams did at the tournament.”