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Scratching and clawing for support
Portal soccer: A seven year process
Seventh graders Abigail Scarborough, left, and Zander Salazar vie for the ball during a Portal soccer practice Thursday. Girls and boys, middle schoolers and high schoolers all participated in the scrimmage.

While the exact origin of the phrase isn’t known, the first known use of “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” was coined in James Joyce’s 1922 novel “Ulysses”.
    It goes in the novel as such, “There were others who had forced their way to the top from the lowest rung by the aid of their bootstraps." The phrase is used as an illustration for someone being able to get themselves out of a difficult situation solely by their own efforts.
    While the phrase may be old, it can still ring true to the admirable efforts of those with the cards stacked against them. Just this past spring four parents over in the tiny town of Portal finally saw their efforts bear fruit when the high school was able to field two, GHSA-certified soccer teams for the first time in the school’s 70 plus years of athletic history.
    Being able to drum up interest, let alone get the funds and bodies out for a sport that already struggles to be popular at the class A level in Georgia was going to be a challenge for anyone who wanted to play soccer at Portal. The school as it is struggles to find proper numbers for the popular sports like football and baseball — being they’re only 450 students between all seven grades — so soccer even having a chance to exist was going to be a challenge.
    But four parents with kids who wanted to keep playing past the youth league level, these were the hurdles they’d have to jump through. Matt Haddock, Portal’s head coach and a full-time windshield repair business owner, was one of the key architects in getting the soccer program at Portal off the ground and running back in 2011.
    “I had played soccer pretty much my whole life, and I figured if we at least had enough kids to put together one team then why not try making this work,” Haddock said. “I never had an issue putting time into this if we knew we’d have the numbers.”
    With almost no resources, money or support outside of what parents were able to bring — Portal’s soccer team started as a co-ed middle school only team for the first two seasons it existed. But after a 6-4 record in 2012, word of mouth spread to the other non-baseball playing kids around Portal that maybe there was something for them to do come springtime.
    In 2013 the team finally made the jump to the high school level, still operating as a club team. Portal would play the GISA teams from around the area like Bulloch Academy and Robert Toombs, as there were no restrictions against playing co-ed teams in the GISA. Haddock continued to coach the team, along with support from other Portal teachers like Shannon Davis and Lee Street.
    “The kids did a really good job of getting the word out that there was something other to do than baseball and track in the spring,” Davis said. “I think that really helped drum up interest as things went along.”
    Finally after the 2016 season Portal had the kind of numbers necessary via Title IX rules to field both a boys and girls team, which meant it was time for the Panthers to make the treacherous leap up to being official GHSA sanctioned clubs. This was going to take board approval and money the soccer team didn’t have.
    However with the full support of BOE Chairman Cheri Wagner and Roy Thompson — now chairman of the county commissioners — his business and a number of other voluntary donors recruited by Haddock and Portal teacher Deena Scarborough, the Panthers were able to gather the funds necessary to register as a GHSA team, buy uniforms and afford officials for every home game.
    For bigger schools, money comes by a little easier than for a school with less than 500 kids. Haddick, Davis, Scarborough and Street had to work together to help convince those companies that their money was worth the investment for the little class A school to field two soccer teams.
    “We raised our money primarily through dinners I had organized by getting donations from a bunch of local businesses,” Haddock said. “It was really humbling to see so many people be that generous to us.” 
    It was a rough first year on the field to say the least. The boys — who’ve been a fully functional club since 2013 — didn’t win a single game this year to finish 0-8-0. However, perhaps even more surprising than Portal even having a soccer team in the first place, was the girls winning a game in the first year ever as a team.
    The ladies 3-1 win over Claxton on March 9 was undoubtedly the pinnacle of the Panthers season. Senior Madison Miles scored two goals to put Portal ahead early in the game and sealed what will be a historic day for the young program. Even if the girls didn’t win another game for the rest of the season, the mere fact they did win a game playing with 12 players with nine of those girls having no prior experience is nothing shy of extraordinary.
    “It’s fair to say it was year zero with the girls,” Haddock said. “But I’d say they were very much ahead of schedule with that win against Claxton.”
    Next season will bring even more challenges for these four parents, as Portal will now be incorporated into region 3-A as the 11th soccer playing school. With no extra money for lay coaches, Portal will still depend on volunteers to travel out from Statesboro to help be assistants to Haddock and his support system. 
    But for Haddock and the rest of the parents, it’s not so much about the wins and losses but more about giving their kids a chance to play a game they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.
    “It was never a question on whether or not we as parents were going to put time into this,” Haddock said. “It’s about seeing our kids have fun and play this game they love. That’s what makes this all worth it.”