High school soccer coach inducted into Indiana Soccer Hall of Fame
by Kalie Ammons
“I was inducted into the soccer hall of fame on Feb. 8 of this year, and I have to tell you that this is the highest honor I have received in my soccer career,” Coach Olman Sánchez said in his acceptance speech.
Sánchez has not only impacted numerous students he has coached, but is a huge reason that soccer programs exist at all in the Wabash area.
Olman Sánchez grew up in the beautiful Central-American country of Costa Rica.
“In Costa Rica, the main sport is soccer,” said Sánchez in an acceptance speech on Feb. 8. “When I was growing up, soccer was the only thing you could think about. We did not have many facilities - you just got together with a bunch of kids and found a place to kick the ball around and have fun. Soccer balls were hard to find and I could not afford one, so we used whatever was available.”
Sánchez was inducted into the Indiana Soccer Hall of Fame earlier this year. He taught Spanish at North Miami High School for 24 years before retiring, but continues to coach the boy’s soccer team, with 14 seasons already under his belt.
Sánchez compares the soccer of his simple past to the modern sports world.
“In our formal practices, we did not have very many [soccer balls],” he said. “It was difficult, but we survived. Today, it is a different story, in our practices, we provide a ball for each player.”
Sánchez started playing soccer as a child, and joined more serious clubs as he approached his teens.
“When I was about 12 years old I played for a few years on private clubs,” he said. “I remember our team leaving on Sunday mornings from my hometown, sitting on two small benches in the back of a pick-up truck to San José, the capital of Costa Rica, to play against big clubs.”
Sánchez was not necessarily the best player on the field, but to him soccer held a higher meaning.
“I was not a great player at all, but, it was fun,” Sánchez said. “I was proud to be part of the team.
While Sánchez continued to play soccer throughout his life, it was never a serious choice as a career.
“Then, when I was a teenager and in my early twenties, I played more soccer, but it was just for fun,” Sánchez added. “Some of my friends were really good, they were more serious about it, and some of them ended up playing professional soccer -not me, boy! Not me!”
Sánchez recalls one of his fondest memories of soccer in Costa Rica.
“The super star Pelé was playing,” he said. “So I figured out how to be there. Before the game, they turned the lights off of the stadium, and the best player in the world, stood there, in the middle of the field, with his beautiful white uniform and a spotlight, and did all these amazing soccer tricks! During the game he scored a goal or two, and of course they beat the Costa Rican team, but I will never forget this terrific soccer experience!”
After meeting his wife, Thelma, in Costa Rica through a mutual love of music, Sánchez moved with her back to her home town of Lagro and was disappointed to see the lack of interest in soccer.
“I started getting involved in the community, and by the end of the 1970s, with the help of some parents, we decided to do something about it,” he said. “We advertised in the paper about signing up for soccer. One Saturday morning, we set up a table in the middle of a soccer field. That year we had about 80 kids signed up. In our second year the program tripled and then two years later we had several hundred kids playing soccer.”
This program spurred the creation of Wabash’s modern soccer program. Before Wabash had the YMCA, there was a program called Wabash Community Service, which is where Sánchez and others helped to begin the teams.
“Recently I talked to Mr. Bill barrows, YMCA director, and he told me about the wonderful things going on in their soccer programs,” Sánchez said. “According to him, during spring, they have around 350 kids playing soccer. They have around 400 kids playing soccer during fall.”
After setting Wabash County and Huntington County up with soccer teams, Sánchez found another nearby area lacking the world’s most popular sport.
“In 1985, the North Miami community schools hired me as a Spanish teacher,” he said. “And you know what? No soccer up there. I had already gotten involved in Wabash County and in Huntington County, and now, my new challenge was to do something in Miami County. It was not easy. It took 15 years to get the program going. During that time I was really busy with my teaching job, but I did not give up my soccer either.
“So besides my teaching job, I was officiating, plus coaching a soccer traveling team,” Sánchez continued. “In order to promote my soccer program at my school, I invited some of those who wanted to play soccer to join my traveling team. Then, finally, with the help of the parents and some of the administrators, in the year 2000, the school’s board officially approved the boys and girls soccer programs.”
Sánchez emphasizes that creating these programs takes more than one person.
“To me, parents were the key to success, for the following reasons: number one, the bottom line is, no parents, no kids,” Sánchez said jokingly. “Number two, many of them were involved in many of the administrative duties in order to keep the program running. Number three, many of them were coaching a team, plus doing a referee’s job, and number four, some of them were involved in keeping the fields and equipment in good condition. During my years at Wabash, the Wabash community service played a big roll in our great success.”
Sánchez explains the pay offs that come with creating these programs.
“Soccer is my passion and I love what I have been doing for years and years,” he said. “I have had the opportunity to teach hundreds of players of all ages this beautiful sport. I am so pleased to see many of those little ones growing up and playing soccer in colleges-some of them becoming referees, and some of them coaching other kids. To me, as a coach, these are the best rewards, because after years, and years of hard work, now you are able to see the final product of that small seed you planted long, long time ago.”
Sánchez’s passion for soccer goes beyond coaching and playing. He keeps all aspects of soccer in his life, and sees how it affects him daily.
“I guess there is something magical in this sport, because knowing that I am getting older and older every day, soccer keeps me feeling younger, younger, and younger,” he said. “So for years and years, I have been involved in just about everything in this sport: playing, coaching, officiating, attending soccer clinics, summer camps, you name it, and I have to tell you this: I feel real, real, good!”
Sánchez ended his acceptance speech with some advice that we can all strive to live by.
“Do not quit doing the things you love to do, and please keep supporting the soccer programs in Indiana because soccer is growing… growing… and… growing.”