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Challengers will restore boys soccer program

Cascade Christian has decided to revive its dormant boys soccer program this fall and is putting its faith in veteran head coach Terry Fretz to build things from the ground up after a 13-year hiatus.

Athletic director Dave Fennell said Friday that the topic of bringing boys soccer back into the fold has been a serious discussion over the past few years but only recently seemed to be a realistic option. The Challengers initially had a boys soccer program from 1986-88 before insufficient numbers caused it to be dropped. The program picked up again for another three-year run from 1997-99 before suffering a similar fate.

With the school flourishing across the board in athletics these days at the Class 3A level, and now firmly settled into its Medford campus after moving from Jacksonville, Fennell said it only seemed right to re-visit adding boys soccer. The fall sports season also includes football, volleyball, cross country and girls soccer (since 1999).

"It just hasn't been a spur of the moment decision, it's something we've had on the radar for a while," he said. "We think now's the time to pull the trigger. If you look at how big soccer is in the Rogue Valley and you look at the high school level, you begin to wonder if we're kind of shooting ourselves in the foot by not giving (boys soccer players) an equal opportunity."

"What we're looking at is giving kids at Cascade different opportunities," added Fennell. "For my seven years here we've seen kids come through who don't want to do football and don't want to do cross country, they want to play boys soccer. We've gotten more and more kids and families approaching us and saying they don't want to play for the public school in their area, they want to play for Cascade."

Since Cascade Christian hasn't offered a boys soccer program since the 1999-2000 school year, players have been eligible to play for whichever public high school corresponds to their home's district boundary. Crater, North Medford and South Medford high schools have each featured Cascade players over the years, but Fennell said that creates somewhat of a disconnect for the players since they're not entrenched in those schools on a daily basis.

A major concern expressed over the years has involved how adding boys soccer would affect the football program — with only so many bodies to go around for a school that is in the low 300s when it comes to overall enrollment. According to Fennell, the football program currently has about 60 members while another 15 are involved in cross country.

"That's 75 boys in a school our size where another 50 percent or so of the student body are really doing nothing (in terms of athletics) in the fall," said the athletic director. "I'm really convinced that we can do both football and soccer well, I really am. I really think we can be a school of excellence in all of the sports."

Challengers football coach Jon Gettman said he wasn't concerned with how the addition of boys soccer might affect his program, which currently fields teams at the freshman, junior varsity and varsity levels. At worst, said Gettman, the Challengers would have to downsize to fielding two teams (varsity and JV).

"I absolutely welcome it," said Gettman. "As far as the school goes, there's a number of kids now or in the past that have played for other high schools so to get them involved with the community at Cascade and try to develop that camaraderie that goes along with playing sports at your own school is a good thing. I think getting more kids plugged in will be a benefit for all of us."

"There are maybe a couple kids on there you're going to lose but I don't expect that to happen too much," he added.

Fretz agreed.

"I don't think we're going to be drawing kids away from football," he said. "Maybe there's a kid or two who played football just to be active in September and wanted to be tied into the school but football has three teams and that's a lot of kids. If they lose two or three kids, it's not going to affect them, which would be great because they've got such a great football program going right now and we wouldn't want to interfere with that."

Fretz guided the girls varsity programs at Crater (1999-2005) and South Medford (2005-11) before stepping away from his head coaching duties. His son Jesse is a seventh-grader at Grace Christian Middle School — a feeder school for Cascade Christian — and Fretz spent this past year working closely with his soccer team as an assistant coach. In that time, Fretz joined the mass wondering if it wouldn't be possible to restore the boys program so players like his son could actually play for the school that they planned to attend.

When that became a reality, Fretz was more than willing to throw his hat in the ring to help rebuild the Challenger program.

"It kinda all fell in my lap and it's something I'm really looking forward to," said Fretz, who last coached boys from 1991-93 when he was the head coach at Spring Arbor University in Michigan. "I'm excited about it because the potential is there to compete right from the get-go. I'm just excited to see where this takes us."

Fennell and Fretz said prospects are good for the Challengers to end up with around 15 players in the fall. The hope is to expand to two teams (varsity and JV) in two years when the large seventh-grade contingent reaches the high school level.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry