Collinsville, Alabama is a small town of approximately 2,000 people, but this past weekend a group of 22 Latino students put it on the national map. Collinsville High School’s all-Hispanic soccer team won the state championship with a final score of 4:1.
Adan Morales is an 18-year-old senior who stopped two penalty kicks, which ultimately led to the team’s win.
“It’s great feeling, but during the game I got knocked out, so I was bit dizzy,” says the goalkeeper and captain of the team who has plans to study to be a computer engineer after graduating high school.
He says what makes their team special is that not only do they train together, they do everything together.
“We are together inside and outside the field,” says Morales, who is of Mexican background. “We have everybody’s back.”
Center mid-fielder and captain Jorge Segura, 18, scored one of the goals and agrees the win was extraordinary, but more so, that they are like a family.
“We practice two or three hours, seven days a week, but we also go to church together and go out to eat together,” he says.
Principal Donny Jones, as well as the entire town, is elated because the school hasn’t won a state championship in 38 years.
“I’ve been at Collinsville for 22 years and in education for 30 years,” says Jones, who grew up in Collinsville and witnessed the creation of the area’s first soccer team, which only came into existence about a decade ago. “Soccer became popular because of the Hispanic students that started coming to our school.”
He says Hispanic students started attending Collinsville High School, which includes grades K through 12, in 1990. According to Jones, Cagile’s chicken processing plant, which employs more than 1,000 people, as well as a healthcare company in town, brought in a lot of Latino families. Today, the school teaches 870 kids, approximately 42 percent of whom are Hispanic — an increase of nearly 400 students in since 1990.
“Once we had enough interest for a soccer team, we got a coach from our staff,” says Jones, who four years ago hired a new female soccer coach, Julie Littles.
Littles, 34, is the coach who led the boys to their championship, but she credits their first championship win to the boys — many of whom have played under her tutelage since they were freshmen.
“It was their hard work, focus, and determination, but also their sense of family,” she says.
Little, who coaches one of the smallest schools in the state, explains they are a small public school competing against larger private schools.
“It’s a special team, and they have overcome a lot of obstacles to win the state championship,” says Little. “It also opened lots of people’s eyes to small towns and small teams and what they’re capable of.”
She says most of the boys are very poor and don’t even have money to buy fast food at away games, let alone buy socks. Yet, they took it upon themselves to set up fundraisers to be able to afford equipment and uniforms to play their beloved sport.
David Hernandez, 17-year-old defender/midfielder says he’s been on the team since the 8th grade.
“Words can’t explain how great it is,” says the senior, whose family also comes from Mexico. “I love the fact that we were so unique. We had something different that other teams didn’t have. We had love, and we wanted to make a difference — to make our community happy and make history.”
He’s undecided on which college he will attend, but he’s sure he will go to college and interpret for the deaf, and maybe become a missionary.
“I kept the promise to myself that I wouldn’t leave without winning a state championship, so it felt great,” says Luis Segura, 18-year-old sweeper (defense) who got a four-year academic scholarship to study computer engineering or medicine at Jacksonville State University. “I’ve always loved soccer. It’s my passion. It’s a team sport. Ever since I was born, all of my family watches it and plays on local leagues. I’ve always been around it.”
He says most of the team is Mexican, and there are a couple of players from El Salvador and Guatemala, but the whole town now cheers them on.
“There has been a huge response from the town,” says their coach. “I think we’ve had more support the last few years than the 10 years it’s been in existence. “We do have a large Hispanic population, but a lot of the town didn’t know about soccer. They have grown more supportive of the team and the boys.”