Have a Pepsi

Parker Takes Home PepsiCo Victory

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Photo credit: Neil Stern

Parker’s Boys Varsity Soccer Team celebrates victory with a Pepsi spray.

64 teams. 5,000 sweatshirts. 2,000 student athletes. 100 two-liter bottles of Pepsi. 1 trophy.

On Sunday, September 23 at 7:45am, Parker’s boys’ varsity soccer team found themselves crammed into an Infinity Bus headed towards Arlington Heights. Excitement ran high and jitters pulsed through blue uniformed bodies, as each player laces up their cleats and exits onto the turf. The game would define their fate in the PepsiCo Showdown, the largest high school soccer tournament in the nation.

Among the 64 teams registered, the varsity boys soccer team found itself in a bracket with 16 teams competing for a single title. The PepsiCo Showdown, which kicked off in 2003, has hosted massive Showcase Saturdays for the boys in Joliet each September. Parker competed in the showdown for the first time in 2014, however, it is not until four years later that the team has successfully brought home a victory.  

In order for teams to win their brackets, they must win four consecutive games throughout the month September. “This tournament was a really fun opportunity to meet students from other schools and play against schools we don’t normally see in our league,” said senior Captain Jacob Levy. The team is counting down the days until February, when the travelling trophy will make its way to Parker. “I can’t wait for the rest of the school to see it,” said Freshman Tyler Maling of the massive silver cup. “The trophy represents how hard we have worked to win.”

Soccer captains, Jacob Levy, Jared Albert, and Joey Stern, were featured on a local news channel earlier this month during their time contributing to the charitable portion of the PepsiCo tournament. Each Parker soccer player donated one sweatshirt to raise awareness for National Teen Suicide Awareness Month. “Our goal was to collect 3,100 sweatshirts. That number is significant because it is the average number of attempted suicides each day.” said Levy, “We almost doubled our goal.” Working collaboratively with other teams, the athletes gathered more than 5,600 sweatshirts.

The effort was part of Buddy’s Helpers’ “Making a Difference On and Off the Field Campaign,” the annual community service campaign seeking to engage high school students.

“We went to a homeless shelter to donate all of the sweatshirts we had collected.” said Levy, “Our team has adopted the Pepsi motto: ‘Competitors on the field, but teammates in the game of life’ as our own. That is a message we want to stand behind.” Representatives from the 64 teams across the Chicagoland area helped to load the sweatshirts into a truck at the tournament. The load was sent as a surprise delivery to a West Side homeless shelter.

Although sportsmanship was undoubtedly exhibited off the field, the competition was fierce at the Robert Morrison University Sports Complex during the championship game. The soccer team was coming off a loss after the Latin vs. Parker homecoming game, making it difficult to maintain positivity. “You could definitely feel some low vibes, but we bounced back pretty quickly,” Maling said, “It was frustrating because, obviously, it would have been nice to win homecoming, but PepsiCo meant a lot more to us. That was our ultimate goal.”

The team was initially threatened by competitor, Homewood Flossmoor, with a student body of 2,700. “We played a school nine times the size of ours,” senior Soccer Captain Joey Stern said. “They were a solid team, with a solid back line. They had a pretty good mid-field. They matched up to us pretty well.” The broad stature of the players on the opposing team also served as an intimidation factor. “Their team was a lot bigger than us, physically. Almost everyone was over six feet,” Levy said. “That was a major test for us.”

The anxiety on the field quickly melted away within the first five minutes when Junior Tomas Catoggio scored the first goal. The team went into halftime with a lead of 1-0, “We knew we had to put one more in before we could clinch the game.” said Levy. With about 20 minutes left on the clock, Stern scored the final goal. The team was ecstatic. “We dominated the game. We passed well, we got the ball up the field. We took over the game—we were more aggressive,” Stern said. “It felt like we wanted it more than they did.”

With a 2-0 win locked and ten seconds left, the players sitting on the bench dumped a cooler full of water over varsity coach Neil Curran’s head. When the clock finally reached its final seconds, the team sprinted onto the field into a dog pile. From there, the team was led to the Pepsi truck, and each player was handed a two-liter bottle of Pepsi. “It was basically a champagne shower, but with Pepsi!” said Stern, “We shook up the bottles, watched them explode, poured them into the trophy, and drank from the trophy.” It was safe to say that the team was completely drenched, from mohawk to cleat, with the sugary soda. “The Pepsi shower was the craziest thing I have ever done.” Maling said. “I thought I would be just a little wet, but no. We were soaked. I was sticky for two days.”

“We worked really hard.” said Joey, “ We wanted to win. And we did.”