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Littleton High School's girls varsity soccer team took home the Team Academic Award from the United Soccer Coaches organization in February, marking the team's 19th win — which ties them for most in the nation. Teams must have a composite grade point average of 3.25 to be eligible for the award.
The LHS team consistently wins the award because of a strong focus on academics, said team coach Terry Banfield, who has led the team for 23 years.
“I've always been of the belief that academics have to come first,” Banfield said.
The team meets for weekly grade checks, Banfield said, and any member with a D or F in a class gets connected with a tutor — often another team member.
“I'll say, 'OK, who knows Spanish? Who can help so-and-so?'” Banfield said. “There's plenty of intelligence and talent on the team, so it's not hard to make that happen.”
The team also took home USC's Team Ethics and Sportsmanship Award for the second year in a row. Now in its third year, the award recognizes teams for fair play and sporting behavior.
The team took the top level in the award last year, for a season free of red or yellow penalty cards. This year's award was a “silver” level.
“We're respectful,” Banfield said. “I care a lot about that. It can be difficult not to get yellow or red cards. You can look at a referee wrong and get a yellow.”
That doesn't make the team pushovers, Banfield said.
“We're not all nice, though,” he said. “Don't get me wrong. We're highly competitive.”
The soccer team is a nurturing and encouraging environment, said senior Ellie Simpson, who plays center defense.
“We love each other a whole lot,” Simpson said. “We spend a great deal of time together away from the team.”
Many of the members are in the International Baccalaureate academic program, Simpson said, which helps push players to achieve.
The awards mean a lot to the players, said senior Sarah Gray, who plays forward.
“We really do pride ourselves on academics first and sports second,” Gray said. “And, academics or not, it's a great community. We really do become a family. We're not out for blood.”
The awards dovetail with Littleton Public Schools' goals, Banfield said.
“It's a strong academic district anyway,” he said. “Between the IB program, the STEM program, and our Early High School program, which gets middle schoolers involved in high school work, this blends nicely with what the school's trying to do.”
The upcoming team is a strong one, Banfield said.
“We only graduated four people last season. It's a great group of people who want to do well. We have fantastic players coming back. We may very well snag the 20th consecutive award,” Banfield said.
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