Friday night’s games saw players, coaches and fans from years past come out to re-connect and compete for bragging rights. (Nick Griffin for The Tribune)
CULLMAN – Hundreds of Bearcat Soccer fans and alumni filled the stands at Cullman High School Friday night for this year’s CHS alumni soccer games. Players were divided into three squads, the 2016 State Champions, the 2012 Final Four finishers and the 2002 State Champions. Each team played two, 35-minute games in a round robin format to decide who was the best.
Attendance for the event was free and included inflatables for the kids, concessions and more. All the proceeds from the event came from donations and will be split between the Bearcats’ boys’ and girls’ soccer teams for the upcoming season.
Game one between the Final Fours and the ’02 State Champs got things started and the young legs on the Final Fours gave them the edge in the night’s opening matchup. The ’02 Champs struck first in the third minute of the game, but three unanswered goals in the following 10 minutes allowed the Final Fours to cruise to a 3-1 win.
Game two was another heavyweight matchup featuring the ’16 State Champs and the Final Fours of 2012. Once again, the Final Fours went down 1-0 early, but they scored twice in the final four minutes to take a 2-1 victory and the sweep.
The final match of the night saw two sets of state champions square off to see who was truly the best. Unfortunately for both teams and the fans in attendance, we’re still not sure. The third contest of the night ended in a 0-0 tie; neither state championship unit was able to separate itself from the other.
One of the members of the 2016 State Championship team, Michael Peralta, was excited to see some familiar faces and see the community show its support for the program.
“It’s a really good opportunity to get to come out here and see everybody back. It’s been a while since we’ve seen everyone, so I think it’s really good to be able to come back and play some soccer and bring back some memories,” Peralta said. “There’s a lot of people that came tonight to show their support and that always helps to motivate the players, showing how much they care.”
Christina Chambers also made her way to the Cullman Soccer Complex for Friday night’s event and for her, the night was about seeing old friends and supporting her alma mater.
“It’s really cool for me because I’ve played soccer since I was 5 years old, but I got a track scholarship, so you know once high school ended, that’s kind of when my soccer career ended, too, so it’s cool to be back here and see a lot of the guys that I saw when I was in school play,” Chambers said. “I went to school with Casey (Harbin) and a lot of these guys so it’s a lot of fun. I wish some of the girls would’ve come out. I know a lot of the girls that I played with don’t live nearby anymore so I know they wish they could’ve been here for this, but it’s just awesome to see everybody come together and support their high school. That’s what its all about. I’m proud of where I’m from and I’m proud to support this community.”
One of the 2002 State Champions, Ben Miller, said he had the most fun catching up with old friends and coaches, but he was also excited to see the support for the program.
“It’s been really great. I guess it’s been 16 years since we were here, and it felt like soccer was kind of starting to get popular when we were in high school and my freshman year the crowd was never as big as it is right now, so it’s really fun to see all the people that we haven’t seen in 16 years like old coaches, players and their families,” Miller said. “It’s great for the sport in general but especially here where soccer is always a little underrepresented so it’s great to see all those trophies over there tonight.”
The head coach for the ‘Cats girls’ team, Jacob Brown, thoroughly enjoyed this year’s alumni game and hopes that the younger players will see the older guys’ passion for the game and learn to appreciate it to its fullest now.
“Obviously you’re excited because it’s an alumni game and everything but then you get out here and you see all the old guys you played with and it really brings back memories. Seeing the ’02 guys, all the guys you looked up to, coming out here and playing is a lot of fun and then looking over and seeing all the fans,” Brown said. “It’s definitely a memory that you miss, and I wish people who currently play will realize that before it’s gone. It’s a once in a lifetime experience that you’ll never get back and I hope they cherish it and make the most of it while they’re young.”
CHS boys’ head coach Casey Harbin has helped organize nights like this in the past, but this year’s event proved to be a special night that he’ll remember for years to come.
“We did an alumni game a few years ago when I first started coaching but we did it at the spur of the moment in the winter and it wasn’t great, so when we decided we wanted to do this thing I said, ‘We’ve got to do it in August when the field looks good and before everyone goes back to school,’” Harbin said. “It’s so cool for me because I played with so many of these guys and I coached a lot of these guys and I mean, it’s reliving so many glory days for me and it’s so nostalgic. I’m giddy right now, I just love seeing every one of them.”
It was important to Harbin that the event be free and after seeing the crowd fill the stands, he said he knows the school made the right call.
“We had so many alumni and we didn’t want to charge an admission fee because we just wanted everybody to come out here and just enjoy getting back involved with Cullman Soccer,” Harbin said. “I looked up and saw the stands packed and immediately it was all worth it.”
At the end of the night, Harbin had one last message for his 2016 State Championship Team.
“I just want to add that the 2016 team should be ashamed that they let me score on them. For years I told them I was better than them and they let me score,” Harbin grinned. “Now I get to hold that over their heads for a year.”
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