The Jack Yates Lions faced a daunting task on Wednesday evening as they opened District play against Furr High School, a team that has qualified for the playoffs in three out of the last five seasons.
The Lady Lions entered Barnett Stadium as the first soccer team to represent Yates in a competitive game since 2013. The Lions ultimately fell in their first game of the season, but the outcome is merely a footnote in a journey that might have never been if not for the students that took the field on Wednesday.
"It took a lot of hard work, both mentally and physically, learning how to get to the ball. For a lot of us - this was the playing soccer,” said Dior Bowie, a freshman at Yates. “So, this is good for us."
Bowie was one of the many freshmen in Yates’ lineup on Wednesday; and like many of her teammates, she was motivated to play the sport by her coach, Page L. Morris, who also coaches track and volleyball.
"Our coach, she is the main reason (we play). If it wasn't for her, we would not be on this field,” Bowie added. “She motivated a lot of us to get our heads together and prepare mentally for this sport. Most of us didn't want to play, she made sure we were prepared and that we were ready."
Morris, like many of her players, was also making her debut in the sport on Wednesday. The IB History Teacher has the support of Houston Dynamo FC and specifically Dynamo Academy coach and former Dynamo midfielder Ricardo Clark. The Dynamo legend has worked with Morris and boys’ head coach Duane Clark to create training plans and build the foundation needed to prepare the players for their first season of competitive play.
"They have been very supportive with us. They have helped me build practice plans, answering all of my questions, running me through drills, creating a good base that I did not have,” Morris said. “At first, I was like, 'I don't know what I'm doing.' Now, I'm not perfect, I don't know everything, but I am growing, and I am glad to have a support system backing me up.”
That support system includes Dynamo Charities, which facilitated more than $15,000 in donations of new gear and equipment for both last fall. The contributions continued earlier this month as Dynamo Charities worked with Yates to mow and paint the training field prior to the first training session of the season.
Morris had to recruit, train and prepare for the first game all within a three-month window. She is driven by her players, who are going beyond their comfort zone to play a sport that was out of sight and out of mind in Houston’s Third Ward for nearly a decade.
"It has been a crash course, it definitely has. COVID has made it more interesting, but I am grateful for the learning process,” Morris said. “I'm excited to see the growth, because it is a process. I appreciate that fact that they are learning different ways to communicate when your emotions are high, following instructions in high intensity situations, just learning how this can carry over into their future. So, that is the part that brings me joy. I know it's a process, but it is worth it."
The process and season will Saturday at noon as they face Washington High School at Cowart Stadium. Dynamo and Dash fans are all encouraged to drop by and cheer on the players and coaches from Yates as they continue their development.