The soccer season ended in the saddest possible way for Waukegan High School, as the teachers strike in the district forced the team to forfeit the legit chance it had to win an IHSA Class 3A (big schools) regional and advance far in the IHSA playoffs.
But as depressing as that result was and is, there’s still a feel-good story involving high school soccer in Waukegan this fall.
You just have to drive two miles south of Waukegan High’s Jackson facility to find it.
Cristy Rey St. Martin High School — home of the Knights — just completed the most successful soccer season in school history, with the tiny (330 total students) winning a Class 1A regional soccer title and advancing to the sectional championship game (Round of 16 in the playoffs) before losing 1-0 last Friday to Latin High School from Chicago.
The Knights finished 16-2-1 under the direction of head coach Jesus Carlin and assistant coach Rafeal Trujillo and earned a regional championship plaque for the school’s trophy case.
And because of the way Cristo Rey St. Martin functions as a school, it’s more than fair to say the Knights had to overcome a lot to be so successful this season.
Athletic director Jordan French explained that in order to make the private school affordable for young men and women in the Waukegan area, that it has a Corporate Work Study Program. Five days a month, students go to work instead of going to school, and instead of being paid for working, the businesses give the money to the school to defray tuition costs.
Kind of a work-study program, if you will.
But here’s the thing. Everybody participates in the Corporate Work Study Program.
Each Monday, all freshmen are gone from school working. Tuesday is the sophomores’ day to work. Wednesday is for junior, and Thursday is for seniors. And on Friday, there’s a rotation, with each class of students taking one Friday and working it instead of going to school.
And what does this have to do with the soccer team?
Each day of the week, roughly 25 percent of the players miss practice — or a game — because the work day goes past the team’s practice time.
On this year’s team, there are four seniors, seven juniors, 10 sophomores and 11 freshmen. So, if a game is scheduled for a Tuesday, the 10 sophomores can’t play. If the game is on a Wednesday, the seven juniors can’t play. Etc.
Yet, despite that handicap, the Knights had an amazing season.
The program even was able to add games because of the teachers strike that denied Waukegan High a chance to play games.
Among the games Waukegan was supposed to play this month were contests against Glenbrook North and Vernon Hills. Those schools played Cristo Rey St. Martin instead and, in fact, Glenbrook handed the Knights their only loss (5-0) of the regular season. The team tied Vernon Hills 2-2.
French said that the games against elite competition such as Glenbrook and Vernon Hills “really prepared us for regional play.”
The athletic director added that the school “strives to build college-ready student-athletes who embody gamesmanship and sportsmanship through commitment, dedication, teamwork and quality work ethic.”
Those traits earned the Knights a spot in this year’s Class 1A Sweet 16, and with most all the players returning next fall — scheduled work days aside — the team should be better than ever.
The Knights’ roster includes: