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Sallies Soccer: Extraordinary Success Deserves More Recognition

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Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan has covered and commented on the Delaware sports scene for more than 30 years, everything from amateur recreation leagues and high schools to local colleges and the Philadelphia professional teams. He’s been voted Delaware Sportswriter of the Year multiple times and currently covers the Philadelphia Eagles for CBSSports.com and teaches creative writing courses at Wilmington University.

It’s become such a ho-hum story that it didn’t even appear on the front page of the sports page of our local newspaper. While the Division II high school soccer championship did make the front page of the sports section and was even teased on the front page of the entire paper, the Division I winner was pretty much relegated to the back pages.

So, Salesianum School won another soccer championship. That’s not really news, although it would be headline-worthy if they had lost, since the Sals have won seven consecutive state titles and 13 of the last 15. But you need to look at a much bigger picture to really appreciate how good they are.

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The 2016 Division 1 State Champions – Salesianum Soccer Team

The Sals aren’t just the best team in Delaware; they’re one of the best teams in the entire nation, and that’s something that doesn’t happen to a Delaware high school very often.

In fact, no Delaware team has ever been featured so prominently and so consistently on the national stage – the Sals finished the season ranked sixth in the nation in soccer (something that wasn’t even mentioned in the newspaper article) and just three years ago, the Sals were ranked No. 2 and they beat No. 1 St. Benedict’s of New Jersey along the way.

To put that in perspective – soccer is played in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, and according to MaxPreps.com, 12,054 schools and 440,332 athletes played boys soccer in 2016. And out of 12,054 schools in the entire country, only five are deemed better than Sallies (and eight of the top 10 teams have larger enrollments than Salesianum).

So, again, why doesn’t this team get the props it deserves in our tiny state?

Let’s face it, we Delawareans tend to have an inferiority complex because we’re pretty insignificant nationally, especially in sports (unless Elena Delle Donne is somehow involved). Usually we jump all over anything that gives Delaware even a little prominence, but most people – even sports fans – don’t seem to understand how noteworthy it is for a Delaware team to be ranked sixth in the nation in the world’s most popular sport.

Maybe it’s because the Sals win so often and often so easily that it’s taken for granted.

Maybe it’s because so many people resent Salesianum’s success in almost all sports, as they point out – correctly – that the Sals have a huge advantage because it’s a large, all-boys school that doesn’t have to worry about school district borders

And maybe it’s because old, die-hard Sallies alumni (including myself) will always think of Salesianum as a football school and don’t like the spotlight being directed at another sport. When I went to Sallies in the late 1960s and early ‘70s we didn’t even have a soccer team and that funny looking ball was something you kicked around occasionally in gym class, but it wasn’t a sport to be taken seriously.

As for the always-wins theory, that would be understandable if the subject was cross country, which the Sals have dominated for decades. But Sallies soccer is different, because it’s a Top 10 team in America, not just Delaware. Other Delaware schools have dominated their sports in-state, and Cape Henlopen field hockey comes to mind. Even though the Vikings’ streak of five straight state championships ended this season when they lost to Tower Hill in the state tournament, Cape’s success has been remarkable on the local level. But the sport is played on the national level in just 19 states, mostly in the mid-Atlantic region, and whereas soccer is played by 12,054 schools, field hockey is played by just 1,763.

That’s why Salesianum soccer is so special. Coaches Tony Wolanski and then Scott Mosier have created and maintained the most successful high school athletics program in Delaware history, even if hardly anybody seems to notice.

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