After seasons of struggle, Royal Oak soccer team excelled in 2013

By: Mike Moore | Royal Oak Review | Published October 16, 2013

 Senior Alex Kokesh, left, battles for the ball with a North Farmington player. Royal Oak won three games all of last year but was 8-4-0 at press time.

Senior Alex Kokesh, left, battles for the ball with a North Farmington player. Royal Oak won three games all of last year but was 8-4-0 at press time.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

ROYAL OAK — Coaches came and went. Players were left with more questions than answers and far more losses than wins.

Then, Colby Cunningham arrived to take over the program.

Like so many before him, he did so promising to change the attitude, perception and direction of the Royal Oak High boys soccer team.

And that’s exactly what he’s done.

“It was about the attitude, where it had to be established, that going out and simply going through the motions wasn’t good enough anymore,” Cunningham said last week. “I think it’s hard for people to change, but that was the challenge when the season started. We had to get these guys motivated to know they could do more.”

A year ago, the Ravens won just three games.

Entering the 2013 postseason — Royal Oak began district play against Birmingham Seaholm in a game played after press time — the Ravens were 8-4-0 and clinched the Oakland Activities Association Blue Division title with a 3-2 victory against North Farmington Oct. 8 at home.

The Ravens were 6-0-0 in Blue play.

“It’s been like a dream come true around here,” said senior Joey Smith. In his four years with the varsity team, Smith said he’s had five different head coaches. “Coach (Cunningham) was able to get us to unite around a single goal of being a better soccer team. We came together unlike any team I’ve been a part of.”

“To be a division champ on top of everything,” senior Bailey Harris said, “that’s just incredible. It means everything to everyone of these guys.”

Cunningham said the transformation has been as enjoyable as it has drastic.

“It was really a constant preaching to them of what I knew they could do,” he explained. “Once we had a couple kids on board, the attitude started to spread. They knew I trusted what they could do, and they started to trust what us coaches were trying to do, as well. … Once we had that team mentality and they started to see the results, the effort and the willingness to work harder was there. It’s been fun to be a part of.”

“It all starts with coach (Cunningham),” Harris added. “But we also had a good group of seniors that I think was able to help the team bond more than it has in the past.”

As he spoke about the team, the division title and how much things have changed, there was no way to tell just how much season still remained.

To Cunningham, it didn’t matter.

“Whatever happens in the district, this season has been a huge success,” Cunningham said. “We’ve seen the attitude change. We’ve seen the parents and the administration be happy about the soccer program again.  We’ve seen the change in these kids. We’ve got a long way to go, but this has been a big step in the right direction.”

“It’s pretty special to leave the team knowing how far we’ve come,” Smith added. “All the hard work, everything we put into this, it’s kind of surreal to think what we did. To think we’ll have our team’s year represented in the gym for the division title — it’s hard to explain how much that means to us.”