Sue Ontiveros: Kelly High soccer players are ‘in the game’

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inthegamehuddle.jpg

Coach Stan Mietus instills “Kelly Pride” in the members of the girls soccer team at Kelly High School on Chicago’s Southwest Side. | From “In the
Game”

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How often have you heard the advice, work hard, do your best and you will succeed?

Sounds like a solid plan. But sometimes it’s a little more complicated than that. And the victories aren’t exactly what we expect they’ll be.

I was thinking about that while watching the America ReFramed documentary “In the Game,” which follows the young women on the soccer team at Chicago’s Kelly High School and their coach over a four-year period. (Produced by Kartemquin Films, it airs at 9 p.m. Thursday on WTTW-Channel 11.)

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As the documentary opens, we see the teens waking way before dawn and carpooling to the Brighton Park high school. As they travel they discuss homework, what time they went to sleep (too late) and the ACTs – typical high school topics. Early morning practices aren’t all that unusual. Student athletes do that all the time.

What is surprising is seeing where they practice. With a school crowded with other teams and activities, we watch the soccer team do laps around Kelly’s hallways. Spotlessly clean, brightly decorated hallways, but let’s face it, not exactly prime practice space. But with no field, the players and Coach Stan Mietus know this is what they have, so they make the most of it. No grumbling, the teens just put in the work.

The school is 86 percent Latino now, but Coach Stan, as the students call him, has walked a path very similar to that of his team members. His mother journeyed here, alone at first, from Poland, determined to make a better life for her kids, just like the parents of the students he guides at Kelly, his alma mater. Once a student athlete himself, with a promising professional career sidelined by an injury, Mietus doesn’t regret the change in direction in his life. (“That was the best thing that happened to me, honestly,” he says during the documentary). Coach Stan puts his heart and soul into his players.

No one gets cut, and his lessons don’t solely cover soccer: Discipline, responsibility, cooperation with teammates. When life hands you a setback – on the field or off – you have to know how to find it in yourself to keep going. These are all lessons the teammates receive and embrace.

As “In the Game” shows, the teammates often face major obstacles. A family business means they, too, must put in the work there. Some hold multiple jobs. Or because their parents’ employment requires late hours, they handle family dinners and younger siblings.

But you don’t see whining about the situations. In one instance, something happens that would discourage, maybe even break others, and yet this young soccer player keeps on going.

I have to think a lot of that is because of what they’ve gotten from Coach Stan and from playing soccer. We see them put their best out in games against teams with access to lovely playing fields. (As the documentary winds down, we hear about a new Kelly playing field.) A viewer might expect this will be your typical underdog emerging victorious. But that isn’t exactly what happens.

Or is it? The young women describe how soccer kept them in high school, motivated them to continue their educations, make something of themselves. They’re confident and resilient. Some had to buck cultural stereotypes that say females don’t play soccer. They remain supportive of their teammates.

Forget what those scoreboards say; the young women in “In the Game” are real winners.

Email: sueontiveros.cst@gmail.com

Follow Sue Ontiveros on Twitter: Follow @Sueontiveros

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