IRHS boys' soccer team student-managers

IRHS girls' soccer senior midfielders Hanna Bird and Hannah Bird, junior midfielder Carley Topper and junior defender Kendall Cathell are among the student-managers for the school's boys' soccer team, extending their soccer seasons from the sidelines. Two other student-managers, juniors Julia Snyder and Kim Inthilath, serve both the boys’ and girls’ teams.

High-school soccer is more than just a kick in the turf.

There is much to be done in preparation for meaningful training sessions, pre-game warmups and the competition itself.

Each member of the Indian River High School’s defending DIAA Division II champion boys’ soccer team is quite fortunate in this regard as they seek their fourth state crown in nine seasons.

The quest begins this Saturday night with a 6 p.m. opening kick at IRHS Stadium against Henlopen Conference rival Delmar, which defeated Wilmington McKean in Tuesday night’s opening-round match, 9-7 in penalty kicks after both teams played to a 1-1 tie through 100 minutes.

The boys’ team is supported by no less than six female managers, which is double — nearly triple — the number of students who usually assist a high school team. Four of these reliable helpers are members of the IR girls’ soccer team that competes during the spring season and itself reached the 2020 Delaware state semifinals. The two others are managers for the girls’ squad as well.

The girls’ team student-athletes serving as managers for the boys’ team are senior midfielders Hanna Bird and Hannah Bird (no relation to each other), junior midfielder Carley Topper and junior defender Kendall Cathell. The student managers serving both the boys’ and girls’ teams are juniors Julia Snyder and Kim Inthilath.

This helpful half-dozen comprises a tightly-knit “team within a team” that supports each another while “tackling” the numerous required preparations and operations for head coach Steve Kilby’s boys’ team’s training sessions, pre-game warmups and games.

Practice and gameday responsibilities

Each time the boys’ team’s student athletes take the pitch, they are secure in the knowledge that their managers have completed all preparations. These include washing and distributing orange warmup vests to the players and filling water containers to ensure that the players are well hydrated throughout the event. The managers also set up for and clean up after practices, inflate all practice and game soccer balls, accurately position plastic cones for various drills, and distribute rosters and starting lineups to the referees, opposing coaches and the media.

Once the match starts, several managers ascend to the press box atop the home-team bleachers. From that perch, they adeptly manage the scoreboard clock and provide identification (spotting) of goal-scorers and other pertinent information to the media. Simultaneously, several managers sit at the scorer’s table at field level, where they keep statistics that include player substitutions, shots on goal, goals and assists, goalkeepers’ saves, and fouls. As needed, they also act as “ball girls” by providing replacement balls and retrieving those that have been booted out of bounds.

Rather than being assigned to one specific responsibility, the ladies responsibly rotate through various gameday roles to ensure comprehensive service, as well as to build each individual’s skill set.

“The team managers are a funny group. They seem to laugh a lot when they’re completing their duties,” said coach Kilby. “This group of girls has really been a great help with the stats and setting up the pregame field for warmups. Additionally, they do a great job cleaning up after the games. Probably the most important thing they do is getting Starbucks [coffee] for me before games. Actually, that is the only way they keep their jobs.”

A love for soccer

Inthilath said she got interested in the boys’ soccer manager position when her cousin, senior midfielder Eddie Mochiam, helped the 2020 boys’ team capture the DIAA Division II championship last fall.

“I love soccer, and I wanted to support the boys’ team,” said Inthilath. “It was heartwarming to watch the boys’ journey to win the state title. The bond between the players is what made me return for another season as team manager.”

“Being a soccer manager is a great responsibility to add to your college application,” said Hanna Bird. “It’s also a good way to stay active in the fall and get me through to the spring [girls’ soccer] season.”

Hannah Bird said she enjoys “supporting the boys’ team and helping with their success behind the scenes.” She also said the position enables her to assist “the coaching staff and players, and it’s a plus working with your best friends.”

Team student-manager fringe benefits

The managers are in agreement that their position provides them with several fringe benefits, including “getting out of class [early], and getting [additional] touches on the ball,” said Topper. “But the biggest benefit is to surround myself with soccer. I can see the field 100 times better,” she said, than when she is playing. “I can see [opportunities] open up and where players need to fill the gap. I love watching the sport, so getting a front-row seat [at the scorer’s table] to every game is definitely a bonus.”

According to Cathell, being a boys’ soccer team manager allows her to “see the game from a different perspective, from a coach’s standpoint. Another benefit is being near the game in our [girls’ soccer] off-season. From the sideline, I can see the [boys’] team’s chemistry and dynamic. You can tell which players perform well together — something I can’t always understand when I’m playing.”

“You see the game from the sidelines and press box, which each offer different angles,” said Hanna Bird. “And, we are able to [understand] what coach Kilby yells at us about when we are the players.”

Hannah Bird agreed, noting that she sees “certain facets of soccer I don’t see as a player on and off the field. I see all the work that coach Kilby does for the team outside of practices and games to ensure the boys are prepared and successful,” she said.

The position is not without its humor, according to Topper.

“My funniest memory” of being a team manager, she said, “is from the halftime entertainment shows that we liked to participate in. We would run plays, finish corner kicks and shoot balls at Hanna [Bird] in goal. [Because] it was chaotic, we always laughed.”

Comparing boys’ and girls’ soccer

When comparing the boys’ game to the girls’ style of play, Hannah Bird said there are major differences between the two.

“Some of my former coaches have told me that boys tend to play a more tactical version of the game, whereas girls play a smarter version,” she said. “Once I realized this, I noticed it myself.”

Hanna Bird said she believes the girls’ team “is closer and has a better chemistry than the boys. The girls have more of a connection and are able to leave all the drama off the field when it’s game time,” she noted. “[But] the boys’ team is a lot funnier than the girls’ team. They [tell] funnier jokes and always keep you laughing.”

Cathell emphasized that “we get along better, and our off-the-field relationships transfer onto the field. However, the boys are very funny during practices, and yet are able to become serious and prepared when it’s game day,” she pointed out.

“I am biased for girls’ soccer, where we share many laughs and become a closely-knit family over the course of the season,” said Topper. “But the boys’ team knows how to keep things fun and exciting, and they are adept at transitioning from messing around to ‘laser [mental] focus.’”

“The main difference is how the players act,” said Inthilath. “The girls are definitely more mature and easier to talk to. But both teams are very resilient, and they each work hard” for their success.

Hope ‘springs’ eternal for the 2022 IR girls’ soccer side

While they assist and support the Indian River boys’ soccer team, the student-managers also daydream about winning the school’s first girls’ crown. Last spring, they went 14-3-0, winning 13 straight matches and reaching the state semifinals before losing, 1-0, to eventual state champion Caravel Academy.

“I’m very excited, because last year didn’t end how we wanted it to, and many tears were shed,” said Hanna Bird. “Although this year will be a little bit of a rebuilding season, I think we’ll still be a strong team that others aim to defeat.”

“We have a very talented team, and we [will] have new talent playing for us the first time as freshmen,” said Hannah Bird. “I can’t wait to get back with all the girls again.”

“Due to an injury, my season was cut short last year, so I’m eager to play again,” noted Cathell. “We have some strong freshmen and sophomores who I think will step up and be assets.”

“Words cannot describe how excited I am for our season to begin,” added Topper. “Every time I see the boys play, it makes me miss playing. I can’t wait to be back with everyone and work even harder to compete for the state championship.”

Staff Reporter

Mike is a veteran sports journalist, covering generations of student-athletes in Pennsylvania, Texas and Delaware. He moved to the area in 2018 with his wife, Colleen. His passion for people and sports enables him to honor young athletes’ achievements.