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Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Ripley soccer's love of the game brings community closer together

Credit: WTVA ABC Tupelo, MS
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Ripley soccer's love of the game brings community closer together
Ripley soccer's love of the game brings community closer together
March 31, 2021


I'm emily leonard.

Around this time last year the world started to come to terms with the fact that sports were going away for a significant amount of time.

The absence of sports was felt nationwide and especially here in mississippi.

Matt st.

Jean joins us in the studio with the story of a team which showed an entire community the unifying power of sports.

Around the world, people refer to soccer as "the beautiful game."

In most cultures, soccer is king, it's not just a sport, it's a way of life.

In the last world cup according to statista over one billion people tuned in for the world cup final between france and croatia.

In the small town of ripley, mississippi, a group of soccer players used their love of the beautiful game to bring the community together in a way that only sports can.

(track) on a sunny spring day in ripley, there wasn't the ping of a baseball bat nor the crunch of football pads, but the pitter patter (nat) and shouts (nat) of a pick up soccer game.

These are members of the ripley high school soccer team and most of them are hispanic.

Ripley has a very tight knit hispanic community which, according to alum martin morfin and current senior jhasiel bautista, cultivated a strong love for the game of soccer in the town's youth.

(jahsiel) there's a love for the game throughout everyone and it also helps us build that chemistry too, it's like very big around here.

(martin morfin) all of our parents, they grew up playing, they knew the game, they were the ones who were coaching us.

(track) the parents were coaching, because up until six years ago organized soccer didn't exist at any level in ripley, the school stopped offering it in the 90s, but that didn't stop morphin and his friends from playing.

(martin) we played on that field, this field, down there, down there, the tennis courts we have here at the high school, and our street, all of us lived up here, played on the streets, we just played anywhere we could.

(track) when morphin was in 8th grade, the community rallied enough support to bring soccer back to ripley high.

Jeremy smith was the first coach and he never coached soccer a day in his life.

The team had potential, and smith reached out to then north pontotoc head coach joe hunsucker.

(joe hunsucker) from day one that i took over the program, they have come out and just had the best work ethic.

(track) in his third year of coaching, this season, the ripley tigers caught fire, making it to the state championship in his third year of coaching, this season, the ripley tigers caught fire, making it to the state championship game.

Six years after the program didn't exist and it meant a lot to senior sergio juarez to bring pride to his community.

(sergio juarez) it was just an amazing feeling, i just see how much they support us in our games and how much it means to them when we win.

(track) the tigers came up short in the title game, but during their run to the championship, coach hunsucker started noticing a change in the atmosphere.

(hunsucker) the community, i mean it was, you know they were coming to games there wouldn't be a large population to show up, so whenever we started having success so more people started coming in.

(track) and it wasn't just hispanic community coming to games.

(hunsucker) the non-hispanic community has come in and have said, hey i've never watched a soccer game before but i enjoy it, so now its different cultures now coming in watching soccer games and now the hispanic community is now interacting with the non-hispanic community and now we're all working together to build this program up.

(track) and for morfin, who was a part of that original team six years ago, when the stands were virtually empty at his games, how much sports matter to him and his town.

(morfin) it just shows how much everyone cares about sports, no matter what it is, no matter if they don't understand it or not, it's just fun to see all these fans come in out of nowhere and just its an honor to see everything go on the way it is now.

Any time you drive through the community of ripley, odds are pretty good you can find a pick-up game being played by kids and adults who love the game.

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