Male and female players from East and West high schools faced off on Sept. 24, drawing a crowd of 2,000 for their fourth annual soccer night game. The event is referred to as “the Super Bowl of Cherry Hill” informally by residents, and a night to support the community.
“There are very few times where you get these big events, where you get to play in front of large crowds for sports like soccer,” said Michael Beirao, director of athletics in the township school district.
“They may get a few hundred people for a game and that’s a big deal,” he added, “but whenever you get to play in front of close to 2,000 people for a high-school event, that’s a tremendous opportunity just to showcase the great community that we have and how we can bring everybody together.”
Beirao explained that though the teams face off against each other anyway due to being in the same conference, soccer night was created as something the community could rally behind, given that soccer is one of the most popular sports in the town.
“This was one of the ways we could bring in the youth programs, our middle-school teams, our high-school teams, to have a night event where all of our kids could attend and our community could attend.”
During the event’s first year, both the boys’ and girls’ games were held at the same time, but since students wanted to cheer each other on, the matches were later played back to back. The girls’ soccer game was played first, with East winning 2-1.
“My team struggled to come out strong in the first half, but I would say in the second half, we played the best East soccer that I’ve seen so far,” said Rachel Steelman-Tonon, the team’s coach. “ … Our goalie, sophomore Maddie Schultz, saved a PK (penalty kick) to keep the game at 1-0, which changed the whole momentum of how we played.”
Shortly after, senior Lizzy Sommeling scored a goal to tie the game and a few minutes later, freshman Kira Fowler scored the winning point.
“Having this win under our belt has definitely lit a flame from under us to keep pushing forward,” Steelman-Tonon noted. “Our goal for this season, since we’re a young team, is definitely to make the playoffs.
“We won; we beat West,” she added. “It’s a big deal, but we have to keep moving forward with the same momentum every game.”
The East vs. West boys’ soccer game came after the girls’ match and ended in a 0-0 tie.
“(Soccer night) doesn’t really have an impact on the conference. I think it has more of an impact on pride,” Beirao said. “ … Both teams want to win really bad, but no matter what the records are, when it comes to games like this, the records really don’t matter.
“You’re going to get the best game from both teams and it’s going to be a hard-fought competitive game from both sides.”