Photo courtesy Bartlett High School
For the last 20 years the Bartlett boys soccer team has struggled to attract players, never mind win games. It seemed like a black cloud followed the program.
But coach Matt Froehle has restored hope and honor, and these days the bright lights of success shine brightly on the Bears.
Bartlett boys soccer is relevant again after qualifying for the First National State Cup and will face perennial powerhouse Dimond when the ASAA state tournament kicks off Thursday.
The Bears are shooting for their first championship since 1991 – the year after Froehle graduated from Bartlett.
“I'm not nearly articulate enough to describe how much joy this team brings me,” he told me. “I've been a part of very successful teams before on many different levels and I've loved them all very much, but this group has a different sort of feeling.
“The pride I feel as an alumnus and the desire to help restore Bartlett's athletics to their previous levels is part of that. Part of it is also that the program was down for so long. Part of it is how much it has come to mean for these kids - their tears of joy and relief when we won our first games last year will be with me forever.
“Part of it is that I get to share it with my son and see him continue to develop as a player and grow into a leader. Another big part of it is that I get to ride along while some of these kids - many who lack resources, many whose families recently immigrated, many who haven't had a lot of positive moments in their lives - get to be part of something great, something successful. They deserve to compete and to have a chance to win. They don't deserve to be marginalized.”
The funny thing is Froehle showed just as much passion and conviction when the Bears didn’t win a game two years ago during his rookie season as coach and nobody cared what he was doing. But winning opens doors, creates awareness and changes perceptions. It also attracts kids.
This year’s Bartlett team includes 50 kids. Yes, 50.
“We don't cut kids from our team; we'll work with whatever number we get. They all get to play,” Froehle said. “We like to say that there are 50 guys behind every save and every pass - every goal has one goal scorer and 49 assists.
“Pride and ownership are important for us. Players should feel like it's their program. They need to feel like they belong. A lot of kids find the wrong things to belong to, the wrong things to tie their identity to. We want our players to feel like they are learning and progressing, that they are moving forward and that they all matter.”
Froehle, 43, works at the McLaughlin Youth Center, Anchorage's juvenile detention center, just like his dad. He has followed his father’s footsteps in another way, taking a sputtering sports program at Bartlett and creating a winning culture.
Bob Froehle was a longtime high school hockey coach in Anchorage who turned around the Bartlett hockey team in the 1990s.
“When my father took over a down and out Bartlett hockey program in the early '90s, he attached a phrase to the program, ‘Rule #1- Bears Don't Quit.’ This became a mantra for the program and spread throughout the school during that era,” Froehle said. “This is the current soccer program's rule #1 also. It is also written in Latin at the bottom of our crest - Ursi non Quietus. This is a tribute to both my father and to the resurgent hockey program during that time that serves as a model for us. Also, Latin phrases look cool on soccer crests.”
Froehle played for his dad in high school and now he coaches his son Lorenzo, a first-team all-conference forward. Froehle was named Cook Inlet Conference Boys Coach of the Year, the same award his father won for hockey back in the day.
“Being a dad and coach is pretty challenging. There were difficult times then and there are now. There will be difficult times when my son coaches my grandchildren,” Froehle said. “My father was definitely good about keeping sports where they belonged –out of the house, out of the car–and separating the two roles. I try to have the same boundaries, but my kids are so committed that they frequently bring up issues or questions away from the field. I try to redirect this and minimize it to some degree while still being as helpful as I can with them.
“Even though I'm a pretty busy guy, I probably get to spend more time with my kids than a lot of parents do. The same was true for my father. Time with one's children is as valuable a gift as one can give or receive. The experiences we've all been through just add to that value … these challenges and accomplishments all go into building character and strengthening relationships, whether as teammates, siblings, fathers and sons, etc.”
Van Williams is a freelance writer in Anchorage and a correspondent for the Alaska School Activities Association.