By Dylan Butler
Catia Santos and Zujenis Pico didn’t think of themselves as pioneers, forging a path for future girls’ soccer players at Thomas Edison High School.
They just wanted to play soccer.
Santos and Pico are among a small, but dedicated group of girls who convinced the school administration to add girls’ soccer to its list of varsity sports. Also added this year is girls’ softball, increasing the number of girls’ sports at Edison to seven.
New programs have also sprouted up at Robert F. Wagner, which added baseball and girls’ soccer, and at August Martin and Renaissance, which each added softball
“I wanted to go to high school to play soccer,” Santos said. “When I found out there wasn’t a team here, I went to [Frank DeNunzio] and he said to start a petition.”
DeNunzio, a physical education teacher at the school, handed the petition, which had about 30 signatures, over to Edison Athletic Director Frank Roberts. Roberts and Edison Principal Anne Haight gave the girls the OK to start a team.
“Very few girls have any experience playing soccer before,” Pico said. “My brothers all play soccer and I think it’s cool.”
DeNunzio uses the same drills and coaching strategy for the 22-player Edison soccer team that he does to coach the Levittown Hurricane Under-11 girls' team in the Long Island Junior Soccer League.
“We’ve had a great turnout,” he said. “Most of these girls are learning on the fly.”
Edison is one of four new teams in the PSAL that were granted unofficial status this season, joining Robert F. Wagner, Baruch and Choir Academy.
With the exception of an April 30 game against Wagner, the Inventors’ 17-game schedule consists of games against already established Queens programs, including 10 games against teams in Queens A.
“We’ve been playing good,” Pico said. “We haven’t experienced any kind of success yet, but the more and more experience we get, the better we’ll get. It’s a learning experience.”
Joining girls’ soccer as a first-year team at Edison is softball, coached by longtime Springfield Gardens football coach Rod Schatt.
Schatt, a physical education teacher who transferred to Edison in September, posted flyers around school trying to drum up interest. When 45 girls expressed a desire to play, Schatt went to the school’s administration and the decision was made to add softball to its growing list of varsity sports.
“This is a real enthusiastic group,” Schatt said. “They’re kind of like clay. They have no bad habits. Basically, I go over basics and hopefully they get it.”
To weed out anyone who wasn’t truly interested, Schatt instituted mandatory Saturday practices. Nineteen players stayed and make up the inaugural team, which plays its first Queens III-B game Tuesday against Flushing.
“The only time I get upset with them is when they make mental mistakes,” Schatt said. “We’re working on the mental aspect and the physical will growth with confidence.”
Oskar Sarasky always wanted to coach soccer, a sport he played in high school and college in his native Costa Rica. And when he heard that a group of girls at Robert F. Wagner were interested in starting a soccer team, Sarasky jumped at the opportunity.
“Last year they wanted to have a team and they started asking [Wagner Athletic Director Peggy-Ann Jayne] and myself,” Sarasky said. “We finally got things going this year and the girls have been working very hard.”
Twenty girls are on the roster and only one, Mia Sanchez, who Sarasky calls, “a wonderful sweeper,” is a senior. Sixteen of the remaining 19 players are freshman, including promising players Karen Mendez, Jamie Lucio and Libeth Castro.
“We expect to have a good season next year,” Sarasky said. “They really love the game.”
Girls’ soccer is not the only sport at Robert F. Wagner to make its debut in the spring. The small Long Island City high school also added baseball to increase its number of varsity teams to 11.
Coached by Tom Murray, 16 of the team’s 19-man roster are freshman and sophomores and most don’t have previous experience playing organized baseball. The Panthers will play in Queens North B against perennial powers Forest Hills and Flushing, as well as established programs Bryant and Queens Vocational and second-year team Renaissance.
Twelve girls make up August Martin’s first-ever softball team, coached by Marcello Baez. The team will play in Queens I-B against the likes of Springfield Gardens, Far Rockaway, Campus Magnet, Beach Channel and Hillcrest. Martin’s first game is at Springfield Gardens Monday.
Renaissance also has a first-year softball team.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.