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It's not easy being green, it's been said

The Ravens of Alonso High are new and young, but the team is making a name for itself through hard work and quick cohesion.

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 27, 2002

TOWN 'N COUNTRY -- Starting a new sports program in a new school normally means several seasons of losing.

Not so for Ray DiPompo and the Alonso Ravens boys soccer team. District tournaments are scheduled to begin Wednesday, and the Ravens -- with nine freshmen in the starting lineup -- have a shot at postseason play.

DiPompo has coached his youth squad to some impressive wins in the Ravens' 6-8-1 record, and the first-year team is not looked upon as easy to beat.

"We have 14- and 15-year-olds playing 18-year-olds, and the older athletes have experience together, so we told our kids we will measure success in different ways this year," DiPompo said. "Those ways are not necessarily by wins and losses. We measure with discipline and hard work in practice, pride in doing the small things right and small accomplishments."

Discipline is a major part of DiPompo's coaching style. He teaches his charges that discipline is not something done to them, but done for them.

So far, his methods are paying off.

"Except for two games, we have been in every match this season," he said. "They are young now and will still be young next year. But next year, they will have learned to play as a team. They seem to improve with every game and believe they can win when they get on the field."

The Ravens started the season 0-3. Then came their match with Chamberlain. As the game progressed, Alonso fell behind 0-3. But they remained focused, and came back to win 4-3.

"That first win was a big turning point for our team," DiPompo said. "Whether we win or lose, we try to learn something and improve with each match. If we make a mistake, we try to correct it. If we do something right, we try to improve it. The kids are catching on and they firmly believe they are winners. They are."

DiPompo learned about soccer in Maine, where he played on the college level and coached on the high school level. After moving to Tampa, he coached at Leto for more than 20 years.

He stepped down from coaching for a short time, but missed the sport and missed working with kids, so he jumped at the chance to get back on the pitch again at Alonso.

A.J. Madero, the Ravens' 15-year-old freshman keeper, is one of the reasons the team is a contender. He has been playing soccer since his early elementary years and has been part of the Dunedin Sterling club team for the past three years.

But soccer is not the reason for his choosing Alonso. He heard that the school had a good Latin teacher and he wanted to study the language.

"Now it is the soccer team and coach DiPompo," A.J. said. "We knew coming in we would take our lumps, but it turns out we can give them too. We hang out together at school, do things together, play with and for each other well. We are not a player here and there; we have become a team already and have several years yet to just get better."

DiPompo sparked the quick unity, he said.

"He gets into our minds with discipline and hard work and makes it fun. Mostly, he makes us believe in ourselves."

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