A unique form of camaraderie is taking place at Charles City.
Brad McKenzie, holding a small, orange megaphone, shouts instructions to his soccer players competing on the College Grounds.
A group of about 20 boys and girls are scrimmaging on a field with goals much smaller than regulation size. The Comets' JV and JJV teams are either waiting for their turn or pulling into the parking lot for the later practice.
A few years ago, there wasn't a high school soccer program at Charles City High School. Now, the Comets, a coed team, are in the midst of their second season.
"Rec league soccer has been out here forever," McKenzie said. "Over the years, we’ve approached the school a number of times asking, ‘Can we get it goin’? Can we get it goin'?'"
McKenzie said Charles City's YMCA rec soccer league has more than 250 kids, which was one of the primary reasons activities director Todd Forsyth was optimistic about the development about the sport at CCHS.
One of Forsyth's first steps was to confirm this interest with a survey, fielding answers from students at the high school. He also gauged interest of middle-schoolers. The response was overwhelmingly supportive of the decision to bring soccer to Charles City.
Forsyth said the concept of starting a high school program had been pushed for the past four or five years.
There were a few concerns initially. Forsyth was unsure whether the new program would affect the existing spring sports, and there's a plethora of logistical factors that needed to be solved, such as jerseys, equipment and transportation costs.
The startup cost for the team was $20,000, Forsyth said. McKenzie, one of the biggest supporters for the program, led the charge and gleaned contributions from a handful of "large donors."
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"I would say it started with youth soccer being very strong in our community," Forsyth said. "I think the reason businesses got involved was because their kids were involved. They wanted to see it for their kids, too.”
What started as an uncertain operation has turned into a high-volume organization. Among the varsity, JV and JJV teams, Charles City's soccer program has 51 athletes. Thirteen of those are girls.
The team plays under Iowa High School Athletic Association rules, so they play only other boys teams.
The Comets haven't experienced much success on the field – they won only one of their first 15 games – but improvement has been made.
Charles City went 0-9 last season and scored five goals. Only halfway through this year's schedule, the Comets earned their first victory in program history, and they've also scored four goals, just one shy of last year's total.
"Occasionally, the guys are thinking they’re not winning because the girls are on their team, but the girls put it all out there," McKenzie said. "They have a lot to prove. They want to prove that they got a spot or they can earn a spot."
Mariah McKenzie, one of two girls who start on the varsity team, has seen drastic changes in the team's cohesiveness.
"It’s not as cliquey as it used to be," Mariah said. "It’s a lot more team-like; everyone’s in it together ... it’s definitely a lot better than last year because everybody’s encouraging each other."
Also in his second season, junior Hayden Pleggenkuhle takes pride in being part of Charles City's inaugural soccer team. In addition to setting the tone for future teams, Pleggenkuhle has enjoyed establishing team traditions. His favorite is spaghetti night, which occurs in the school cafeteria the night before each game.
"It’s a lot better than last year" Pleggenkuhle said. "Last year it seemed like everyone hung out with the people that were in other sports with them. Now, I think soccer is their own family."