COLUMBUS GROVE — When Girls Varsity Soccer was first placed on the Columbus Grove School Board’s agenda in 2016, a motion was made to approve the program. That motion received no second. No further discussion was offered by the board, and the meeting continued to the next agenda item.

A little over three years later, and the outcome was decidedly different this past Thursday evening, Jan. 9, 2020. At its first meeting of the new year, the Columbus Grove School Board motioned, seconded, and then voted 4-1 to approve girls soccer as a varsity sport. Ned Stechschulte was the lone vote against. The moment capped over three years of dedicated advocacy by parents, coaches, students and other supporters of girls soccer.

“Pretty exciting for the girls,” says Coach Chris Halker during a phone conversation held later. Mr. Halker has coached the club team and will presumably do so for the varsity team as well. “Now, we get a better chance to get more girls involved in a fall sport.”

To better understand what it takes to offer this opportunity for the school’s students, Columbus Grove Superintendent Nick Verhoff was asked about the challenges in integrating a new varsity sport with the school’s other activities.

“When considering the possibility of adding another sport in a small school setting, there is always the issue of whether or not there are enough student-athletes to fill all the team rosters and be competitive at the same time,” he answered in an email. “It is a balancing act to make sure the district does not overextend itself in extracurricular offerings, because if it does, you have a situation where other existing sports are adversely affected by not having enough student-athletes to fill rosters.”

“The Board implemented policy two years ago that required high school club sports to operate for three years before being considered by the Board whether or not to become a varsity sport. The girls’ club soccer team completed their third season this past fall and that gave Board members three years of data to determine what effect this had on the other fall sports. Based on this data, the Board voted in favor to add girls’ soccer.”

While speaking with Mr. Halker, he was also asked how the players themselves responded, and what it means for them. “I’ve gotten a lot of texts from them all this week, and even some of them talked to me,” he answers. “They love soccer. A lot of them played it when they were little, and continued up through until they couldn’t play.”

“We even had some girls who have never played soccer join their junior and even their senior year. They just fell in love with the sport. It’s something where, if girls like to be competitive, and if they have a little bit of a mean streak, it’s a little bit more of an aggressive sport, I would say. To where it gets fairly physical, and they can kind of use that to their advantage. I think that’s what the girls we’ve had here have really enjoyed lately.”

When asked a similar question, Mr. Verhoff wrote of the well-documented benefits of participating in sports and other activities, writing, “Anytime there is an opportunity for students to participate in an extra/co-curricular activity, it is a good thing. The research is very clear regarding students who participate in extracurricular activities, as they have a higher school attendance rate and they perform better academically to their counterparts.”

“We have an extremely high student participation rate in extra/co-curricular activities with our 7-12 students, and I believe that is one of the key reasons our students perform so well academically at Columbus Grove. Providing an additional opportunity for our students to participate in an extracurricular activity will only enhance these positive results.”

For his part, Mr. Halker also appreciates the support the team has received during its stretch as a club team. “Just really, thanks to everybody for their continued support these last couple of years,” he says, “We’ve gotten some good compliments, even from other towns, whether in Putnam County or even some of the schools that we play in the northwest conference…We’ve just been very appreciative of all the community support, and the support of other communities.”

“And, just the support of the parents here in town,” he adds, singling out Crystal Dunlap for putting together the team’s schedule for the last three years, and his fellow coaches Christian Gratz and Brea Minnich.

“With all the players, and all of the countless hours they helped with, doing things for us. Whether it was helping to setup fields, team meals, and just everything all of the parents have done. It’s greatly appreciated,” Mr. Halker says.

“And, for all of the girls. For being brave enough to want to start playing. Like I said, the girls that have never played, even their junior and senior years, coming out, first time ever, just being like, ‘Hey, I want to help start this. It sounds fun. Let’s do this.’ It really, I think, set the pace for the younger girls to start building the program up. I just want to say thank you to all of them.”