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The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Soccer bonds alumni, students at 50th anniversary celebration

Sports writer Dylan Wakefield Photo credit: Trevor Ryan

I remember being the kid in the stands at college soccer games, wishing that someday I would get the chance to play collegiate soccer.

Playing soccer is all I have wanted to do since I was little.

I got that chance.

I have realized playing men’s soccer as a Wildcat means far more than just being an athlete. I’ve joined a family of thousands of brothers. It’s much more than tossing on a pair of cleats and playing soccer.

I am a part of something special and had the pleasure of celebrating 50 years of Chico State soccer excellence at the alumni weekend May 1-3.

Kicking off alumni weekend with a golf tournament at the Butte Creek Country Club, I watched:

  • Old men risk their bodies to prove they could kick a soccer ball over the 17th-hole pond to show they still had it. It took a couple attempts to say the least.
  • The hall-of-fame inductee Bill Wells perform magic tricks while 150 other former Wildcats sat and watched with jaws dropped and food nearly escaping their mouths.
  • The 1981-1983 team crack jokes on each other because of grudges and competitiveness still alive from 30 years ago.

I had the fantastic job of fishing eight soccer balls out of the ponds at hole 17. It took 45 minutes, but I got to share the humorous moment with my teammate, Justin Walmsley, of watching our assistant coach, Zach Bradford, walk knee deep into the slimy, murky pond water.

We gagged. It looked like water that would transform you into the slimy mutant on X-Men.

On Saturday morning, everyone was out at the fields between Yolo and the soccer stadium for the 7-on-7 tournament. Our current team played against alumni, and alumni played against other former ‘Cats. The older alumni played in a 40-and-older league; they fell hard and got up slow.

After the games were over, we dined together as a family. Three hundred alumni and their families at Sierra Nevada’s Big Room. I was a part of something unique. I was in the midst of our first major celebration of the men’s soccer program.

I watched Don Batie, the man who single-handedly turned the men’s soccer program into something extraordinary by starting the tradition of vigorous mountain camps and blue-collar soccer, speak to generations of his former players.

Chris Wondolowski, the alumnus who played in the World Cup for the U.S., thanked his former head coach, Mike O’Malley, for getting him to where he is today. He gave O’Malley the jersey he wore in the World Cup with the addition of his signature as a thank-you gift.

O’Malley exited the stage after chanting “O’le le,” a chant we have adopted that is only sung during major accomplishments and meaningful moments. In unison, we all erupted into song, passionately chanting the lyrics.

It is a major part of what ties us together.

I met Wondolowski and snapped a picture like the average fan.

I shook hands with Otey Cannon, the first African-American player to play professional soccer in the U.S., who also holds the top scoring record for Chico State of 23 goals in 15 games played in a season.

There were decades of success and brotherhood all in the same building for the same cause. Now, the legacy continues on our team’s shoulders. What we do with our feet matters. Every ball we kick and every step we take has 50 years of family and tradition backing it up.

I thought playing college soccer anywhere would be great. But I am glad to be at Chico State. It’s something special.

I am proud to be a Wildcat.

Dylan Wakefield can be reached at [email protected] or @dylan_wakefield on Twitter.

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