For six days last December, our ASF campus was host to not one but seven American Schools.
How could that be? The answer lies in some definitions.
By "American Schools," we mean those not-for-profit, private institutions in Mexico that offer an American-style education delivered primarily in English. Our American School Foundation in Mexico City is the oldest and most widely known, but it's far from the only one. There are American Schools throughout Mexico, from Tamaulipas in the north to Quintana Roo in the south. They come in all sizes, with student bodies that can be measured by the dozens and by the thousands.
More specifically, we're talking here about members of the Association of American Schools in Mexico, better known as ASOMEX. The association brings together 19 independent but like-minded institutions in order to (quoting now from the ASOMEX website) "provide a collective means of serving the needs and interests of the member schools through a spirit of sharing ideas, programs, facilities, experiences, resources and information."
ASOMEX also organizes events, such as conferences, debate competitions, and Model United Nations. It was one such event that brought those six other schools to campus Dec. 1-6, when ASF was serving as host of the national ASOMEX soccer tournament.
The tournament is always a major item on the sports calendar, and it's not hard to see why. What could be a more natural rivalry than, say, ASF vs. the American School Foundation of Monterrey? And what better sport to play out that rivalry than soccer?
Alas, as mentioned, the ASOMEX campuses are far-flung, meaning head-to-head encounters are logistically difficult. The tournament is often the only chance for them to have at it in a well-organized competitive setting.
The official name for the tournament was "Juvenil 'C Menor' ASOMEX Soccer Varonil y Feminil." (If you don't read Spanish, don't worry; it's just as confusing in English). Players were eligible who were born in 1999 or later, making it essentially a tournament for almost-varsities, minus juniors or seniors older than 17.
Besides ASF and Monterrey, the Westhill Institute entered a boys team and the Colegio Americano de Puerto Vallarta sent a girls team. The American School of Tampico, the Colegio Americano de Saltillo and the Colegio Americano de Torreón sent both.
We won't keep you in suspense. The ASF student athletes shone at the tournament they hosted. The girls won the championship (defeating Monterrey in the final) and the Sportsmanship Award. The boys finished second in both the on-field competition (losing to Monterrey in the final) and in the Sportsmanship competition.
A word about that ASOMEX Sportsmanship Award. It is decidedly not a consolation prize. It is, rather, a recognition based on the very reasons the tournament exists. The athletes are first and foremost students, after all, which means that they are competing not just to win but also to grow as athletes, to mature as human beings, and to develop respect for the customs, habits and rights of others.
Not just the players, but the coaches and fans as well are challenged to show respect for the sport, its rules, its traditions, and its proper behavior. Perhaps for those reasons, the competition for winning the Sportsmanship Award is as intense as it is for winning the games.
"ASF puts a strong emphasis on making an effort to win this award," says Athletics and Extended Learning Head Robert Wilson. "It is difficult to do."
The reason it's difficult is because there are precise guidelines for determining the winner. Each school's behavior is evaluated by a neutral judge before, during and after the games. Sportsmanship is graded not on impressions or feelings, but via a strict point system that looks at everything from being on time, obeying the rules, not committing fouls or getting carded, and displaying a positive attitude. The printed rubric for evaluating sportsmanship runs almost as long as the game rules.
No wonder, then, that the ASF players and coaches are as proud of their first-place (girls) and second-place (boys) Sportsmanship Award finishes as they are of the identical finish on the field.
"It's an important award," Mr. Wilson says. "It encourages good behavior from all stakeholders in the tournament."
He might also have added, as ASOMEX itself does in its guidelines, that the award exists to "promote honesty, courtesy, enthusiasm and discipline as values more important than winning."
Nobody involved with ASF athletics will argue with that sentiment. But most would insert an addendum: It doesn't mean that winning is not worth striving for. In fact, trying your best to win is part of the bargain. That's because soccer is competitive, at least in the upper grades. If at that level you don't come prepared with your best effort at winning, you're disrespecting the sport.
With that in mind, ASF's strong showing during the tournament, along with other recent successes, vindicates a long-term effort to take ASF soccer to the top level. "Our soccer program is now mature," Mr. Wilson says. "Our Juv C Minor and Juv C (true varsity) levels are usually in the hunt for a championship. We are seeing the fruits of our labor in terms of program emphasis on the lower levels over the past six years."
He's referring to a strategy implemented at the beginning of the decade to prepare for competitive success at the Upper School level by downplaying competition at the lower levels in favor of focusing on sportsmanship, skill development, and individual and team improvement. Today's Upper Schoolers belong to the first generation to benefit from that focused preparation, and we saw the results on Coach Colman Field in December.
"Our students are now reaching the varsity and junior varsity levels with a hunger, a superior skill level, an understanding of the game, and the right frame of mind to play for championships," Mr. Wilson says. "Consequently, we find ourselves playing at Mexico's top level."
Credit for ASF's tournament success — both in organizing a complex nationwide event and in performing so well on the field — is shared among the coaches, the players, the parents, and a number of staffers. One name, however, stands out: Matt MacInnes, ASF's athletics coordinator and head of soccer. He's not the head coach of either team, but his influence was felt throughout the tournament.
Mr. MacInnes came to ASF six years ago, which not coincidentally was exactly when ASF's program for soccer success was created.
"Matt has led this process for six years," Mr. Wilson says. "He will be leaving us next year. Our challenge will be to continue the program he has set in place. It will be our highest priority."