“I can’t believe I’m doing this, “ I thought to myself as my wife, daughter, son, and I walked down the airport ramp to the 737 waiting for its trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was going to be a fairly short trip to drop off my son at his new school-a small, quaint, Episcopalian school in Faribault, Minnesota named Shattuck-St. Mary’s. I always expected my children to leave Albuquerque, New Mexico. I never thought they would start leaving this young! This was back in August 2017, which would have been the start of Wylie’s sophomore year of high school.
Soccer had always been a fascination to me. I played a single year in 4th grade. I was not very good and the amount of running discouraged me from playing. The irony is I love to run now. Go figure! I watched soccer occasionally on the Spanish speaking channels whenever I would channel surf. I was not a big fan, but I knew enough to keep myself interested. That all changed when I met my future wife in 1993 and her family’s trips and vacations all centered around her younger sister’s soccer trips. The matches were fun to watch and the more I watched and learned, the more interested I became.
When Wylie was born, my wife and I continued watching her sister’s soccer matches and Wylie would sit in our laps or in his stroller and soak in the New Mexico sun and watch the beautiful game. When Wylie turned 3 years old, my wife registered him for his first soccer team, the mighty Bumble Bees. All he did that first season was run around the field and slide into the goal for no apparent reason!
Wylie continued playing and as the years went by, the more competitive the soccer became. By 8 years old, we were traveling with his club team to find competition both in and out of New Mexico.
In 8th grade, he was selected to the Olympic Development Program (ODP) Region IV team after playing for the New Mexico ODP team. This was quite an accomplishment and a testament to his hard work and dedication and the coaching guidance he received in his younger years from his Rio and Rush club coaches.
Wylie played as a right back for the ODP Region IV team. The amount of talent on the team was evident. It was surprising how well the team played together considering the team had not played with each other until meeting up for the Region Tournament in Casa Grande, Arizona. Wylie held his own and played well.
After the ODP Region Tournament, my wife received an email from a soccer coach at Shattuck-St. Mary’s expressing interest in having Wylie visit and attend the school. My wife and I laughed when we first saw the email and ignored it, thinking the email was just another youth sports money grab that are so prevalent today. A few days later, another email came. This one seemed more personalized and legit, showing that the coach had indeed seen Wylie play at the tournament and also mentioned two other soccer student athletes from New Mexico that attended the school. My wife responded out of curiosity and the next day, talked to the coach on the phone.
The coach told us about the program at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Their Soccer Center of Excellence was incorporated into the school day and participated in the United States Soccer Developmental Academy (DA). The school provided a boarding school experience with dorms, cafeteria, and academics. The coach invited us to attend one of their prospect camps. My wife and I talked, and we discussed this information with Wylie, who was intrigued despite the school being 1,200 miles away in Faribault, Minnesota.
Wylie and I traveled to Minnesota for the camp in April 2016 and he enjoyed the school’s atmosphere, its unique and integrated academic and soccer environment, and the coaching. I was impressed myself!
As Wylie and I approached the school the first day of our visit, we admired the picturesque scenery of the campus. The buildings looked like something out of Harry Potter. The campus was surrounded by lush greenery despite it being early April in Minnesota. Established in 1858, the main building was built with gray stone and resembled a castle with a clock tower that overlooked the campus. As we drove into the main entrance of the school, an archway greeted us. Right before entering the archway, the entire front of the school could be seen under the arch, framing it for a moment in time, leaving me in awe and wonder as if entering a medieval fantasy.
After entering the archway, we drove around the little roads that encompassed a large green grass field in front of the school named Parade Field. The field could be used for soccer practices and games, but most of the time, it served as an area for students to hang out and participate in outdoor activities. Older houses surrounded the roads and Parade Field. Some of the Shattuck-St. Mary’s staff lived in these houses or the houses were used for some of the school’s functions, such as the nurse’s office.
We drove to the front of the school and saw a small Episcopalian chapel with a long steeple to the right of its entrance. The entrance had a double gable architecture-one gable built over the other-with crosses mounted on each pitch. Matching the same stone construction of the school, the chapel blended seamlessly into the landscape and further added to the mythical picture of a more chivalric age that had been created in my mind. The campus itself was not very big, but the appearance of the school created an aura of grandeur that left me wanting to explore more.
During our student-led tour of Shattuck-St. Mary’s, Wylie and I were taken to the dorms, to the classrooms, the library, the dining hall, and the sports facilities. All facilities had a character of their own, reflecting the age in which they were built. Inside, wooden staircases led people to upper and lower levels of the buildings while outside, concrete steps provided access to solid wooden doors that had been given another layer of paint to preserve them for years to come.
The sports facilities were more modern and brought my mind back from a fantastical past to our modern era. We walked into the athletic building’s lobby where many professional hockey jerseys of Shattuck-St. Mary’s alumni hung from the ceiling. From the lobby, people had access to the athletic trainers’ room, the hockey rinks, the locker rooms, and the indoor soccer dome. The outdoor soccer pitch was located just outside of the lobby. In all, 2 ice rinks for the hockey and figure skating teams, an outdoor artificial turf soccer field, and an indoor soccer field inside a large, inflatable dome had been built on the north side of the campus-all easily accessible from the dorms and the school. For a school the size of the Shattuck-St. Mary’s, this was quite the athletics set up!
After the tour, I returned to the hotel and Wylie remained on campus with the soccer team. I was hesitant, but Wylie was excited to get started to see how he compared with the DA players. As I left, there was a strange feeling in my gut telling me that this was a great opportunity for my son. A wave of sad happiness came over me, and for some reason, I knew he would have to eventually attend the school.
After a successful prospect weekend, Wylie and I returned to Albuquerque. I told my wife what a great place the school seemed to be and the great opportunities that the school could provide if Wylie took advantage. Wylie wanted to go, but my wife and I were not ready to allow our soon-to-be high school freshman to leave us to another state.
We told Wylie to give his freshman year a try in Albuquerque and to play soccer for Saint Pius X High School Varsity and for the NM Rush 02 club team. Both of these teams were stacked with talent and had potential to do well that year. They did not disappoint! St. Pius X boys soccer took 2nd in state in November 2016, and NM Rush 02 made a run in Seattle, WA for Regionals in June 2017, just barely missing out on advancing out of group play due to goal differential. They did defeat, in group play, the eventual regional champion, the Tuzos from Arizona in one of the best youth games I have seen.
When we returned from Seattle, my wife and I talked about the year and how exciting and fun it had been. However, Wylie came into our room one night soon after the Seattle Regionals and told us that he needed to go to the DA. He felt the exposure to DI colleges and to the US National Team would be greater playing in the DA, and he felt the daily training sessions would really improve his play. My wife and I were expecting this news from him but were sad nonetheless.
Shattuck-St. Mary’s had kept in contact with us so we knew they were still interested. My wife and Wylie went back to Shattuck-St. Mary’s for a visit in June 2017 and after returning home, we began the admissions process.
Consequently, I sat on the plane to Minneapolis in August 2017 wondering what the future would bring. It was uncertain but bright, and I had not seen such a glimmer in Wylie’s eyes as I had seen on that trip. Getting to Minnesota, helping Wylie get his dorm situated, and participating in all the back-to-school activities at Shattuck-St. Mary’s was fun and exciting. However, nothing could prepare my wife, my daughter, and I for the day when we had to return to Albuquerque without him. The lump in my throat as he walked away and through the door into his dorm in Whipple Hall made it difficult to maintain my composure on the drive back to Minneapolis from Faribault. The 40 minute drive to the airport was pretty silent. The mixture of feeling proud, anxious, and scared weighed heavily upon me that evening. When the plane back to Albuquerque left the runway, the tears flowed. I knew Wylie was in good hands and his maturity would suit him well on his own, but the realization that he would not be physically with us in Albuquerque was difficult to contemplate.
Wylie completed his sophomore year and did extremely well academically and on the soccer pitch. He led the team in goals scored and started 21 of 24 games. Although the team only finished 7-15-4, valuable lessons were learned and Wylie felt his soccer development benefitted from the training. There was no doubt he would return to Shattuck for his junior year.
The end of his junior year is now here and he has definitely built upon the lessons from his sophomore year. The team is 19-1-1 and the number 1 seed heading into the DA Playoffs. His development as a soccer player is very noticeable and I am amazed at the improvement in his physical and mental skills with each successive game he plays. More importantly, however, the Shattuck-St. Mary’s environment has really developed his confidence and has allowed him to forge friendships that I hope will remain with him for a lifetime.
To this day, my wife and I still get odd looks and comments about our decision to allow Wylie to move away from us during his high school years. My favorite question is, “How could you send Wylie away?” My mind quickly reflects on our Shattuck-St. Mary’s experience and I simply answer with a question, “How could I not?”