From the Oregonian newspaper:
If Portland refers to itself as “Soccer City USA,” what should people call Woodburn?
The high school capital of soccer?
It’s hard to argue any other school in Oregon has more passion for soccer thanWoodburn.
In 2006, for example, many teachers at Woodburn wanted to cap off the school year by allowing students to watchWorld Cup matches in the classroom. According to Mike Flannigan, a Woodburn teacher and a former boys soccer coach, the school administration was against the idea because it didn’t want the community to think the school wasn’t educating students on the final day of classes.
Word leaked to the homes via students, and Flannigan said parents were in an uproar. Many said if the school didn’t let students watch the World Cup in class, they would stay home and watch.
“We watched World Cup,” Flannigan said. “Would you see that in any other community?”
In Woodburn athletics, any discussion about success and excellence begins and ends with boys soccer. The Bulldogs have made 24 consecutive state playoff appearances, reaching the championship game in 1987, 1988 and 1998. The school typically has 80 to 100 boys turn out for soccer, more than for any other sport at Woodburn, including football. Woodburn fields four soccer teams, something only a few other schools in Oregon offer.
“The thing that’s interesting to me is they always have 80 kids or more, and I’m lucky to get 60 out, and we’ve had a pretty good program,” said Corvalliscoach John Callahan, whose Spartans won the Class 5A title in 2009. “It’s always a tough game against them. They love playing soccer, and it shows. They’re out there having a good time.”
Boys soccer is a beacon at a school where football hasn’t made a state playoff appearance since 1973, volleyball has never won a state tournament trophy and most of the spring sports teams struggle to win games. The only sport at Woodburn to show modest success outside of boys soccer is boys basketball, which has five playoff appearances during the past decade but hasn’t qualified for the state tournament.
Boys soccer is such a draw at Woodburn that the school used to charge admission to games. Athletic director Greg Baisch said that practice stopped two years ago because Woodburn was the only school in the Mid-Willamette Conference to charge an admission fee.
Free is a very good price to watch the 2010 Bulldogs.
Thanks to a tough schedule that it has successfully navigated, Woodburn is No. 1 in the Oregon School Activities Association’s Class 5A rankings. The Bulldogs are 9-1 heading into Tuesday’s game at Crescent Valley in Corvallis, and among their victims are Wilsonville (OSAA Class 5A No. 2), South Salem (Class 6A No. 1), Hood River Valley (5A No. 12) and Churchill (5A No. 13). Woodburn’s lone loss came to Wilson, No. 9 in Class 5A.
Woodburn is not just winning, it is winning by a lot. Eight of its nine wins have been by a margin of at least three goals, including a 5-0 win over South Salem.
Why is soccer the sport of choice at Woodburn?
The easy answer is the ethnic mix of the school. Of the some 1,300 students at Woodburn, about 75 percent are Latino. Woodburn coach Luis Del Rio said the soccer program includes a handful of non-Latino players; on the varsity, the only non-Latino is freshman Michael Hobson.
“The Caucasian kids aren’t as serious about soccer as Latinos,” Flannigan said. “The parents get out and watch their kids during the week, and the kids watch their uncles and dads play on the weekend.”
It hasn’t always been that way at Woodburn, though the Latino influence helped enhance the program.
Baisch coached the program from 1979 to 1987, when Brian Flannigan, Mike’s father, took over the program. During the formative years in the 1980s and early 1990s, the program was about 30 percent Latino, Mike Flannigan said.
Baisch never envisioned soccer would become as popular or successful at it has at Woodburn. The turning point, he said, came during the mid-1980s, when Woodburn moved from a league that included state power Catlin Gabel, Gladstone and Estacada to an easier league.
“All of a sudden, the kids got some confidence, they were winning, and they got to the end of the season, and they still thought they could win,” Baisch said.
The Flannigans ran the program from 1988 to 2008. Brian Flannigan coached the team until 2008, when he handed it off to his son, a former Bulldogs goalkeeper. Del Rio, a longtime Woodburn club coach, took over in 2009 when Flannigan stepped away for increasing family commitments.
As the Latino influence grew, the team’s style changed. Because most of the players are short and quick, Woodburn plays a crisp, short passing game, trying to keep plays in the air to a minimum.
“If we start playing in the air and lob balls, we’re in trouble,” Del Rio said.
Del Rio makes no pretense about where he’s taking the program. He wants to win a state championship.
“I tell the team that we need to start sending messages,” Del Rio said. “We’ve been playing like a very good team, and we’re just dominating opponents.”
Del Rio and some of his players believe the student body has become apathetic toward the boys soccer program because of its recent state playoff flameouts. Since playing for the Class 3A/2A/1A championship in 1998, Woodburn’s best year was 2006, when it reached the semifinals. The Bulldogs have lost their playoff opener four times since 1998, including the past two seasons. In 2008, Woodburn was ranked No. 1 in the state, only to lose to Glencoe in its opening game.
Senior Jaime Veles said the school’s soccer and football players have a running joke.
“We make fun of the football players because they haven’t been to the playoffs, then they’ll say, ‘Yeah, but you guys make the playoffs and nothing happens,’” Velez said.
“We’re trying to change that. We want to shut everybody up because we have the potential to do something more than just get to the playoffs.”
Winning the Mid-Willamette title for the third time in four years is not enough for Woodburn.
“Not being a (state) champion this year, that would be a big disappointment for everybody in my program,” Del Rio said.
Baisch said he recently received the ultimate comment about Woodburn’s soccer program, even if it was a bit backhanded. At halftime of Woodburn’s game against Lebanon earlier in October, Lebanon coach Dave Albion walked past Baisch after talking to his team.
“He said, ‘Someday, I’m going to beat you guys.’ He really wanted to beat Woodburn, like that would be a feather in his cap,” Baisch said. “It really meant something.”
– Nick Daschel