Pennell Kirk is a typical middle school student.
He enjoys being with his friends, meets his school assignments and likes sports.
But he is also a very determined young man.
And not only does he like sports, he particularly loves soccer.
So that in a nutshell are the crucial factors behind what is being played today on the fields alongside the Bridgewater-Raritan School District’s Middle School.
For the first time, the Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School sponsors soccer teams for both boys and girls.
Those two teams now join the other autumn athletic squads—field hockey and boys’ and girls’ cross-country–that students can participate in at the Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School.
Now these soccer players have earned the opportunity to travel and compete against local rivals from Somerset and Hunterdon counties.
And those foes from Branchburg, Tewksbury, Montgomery and Clinton are absorbing the defeats from these two gifted and skilled Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School squads that is each undefeated.
As of October 4, the girls’ team stands at 4-0 while the boys have a tie and post a 4-0-1 record.
But before we go any further in what has been a very successful first year for both clubs, let us look back and follow the path that this young student named Pennell Kirk embarked on so that his classmates can enjoy playing soccer against other communities.
“We had intramural soccer here, but last year one day, a student in my science class, Pennell Kirk, asked about having a travel team,’ recalled Bruce Turnbull, who is the co-coach of the boys’ team with Matt Jarvis.
Pennell fondly remembers that conversation.
“I asked Mr. Turnbull why we did not have a travel team, so he said for me to start a petition,” Pennell said. “So I went around the school and asked students if they would sign and play. I got about 100 signatures.”
Coach Turnbull then watched while his student “started an email trail and contacted the guidance counselors and the principals and worked his way to the top.”
Megan Corliss, the Middle School Principal, was thrilled when Pennell ‘s trail arrived in her office.
“When I was approached last year by Pennell Kirk, a current 8th grader, about adding a middle school soccer team, I was so excited to see students advocating to improve the sports offerings at BRMS,’ Principal Corliss recollected.
So then his journey then took his mission upstairs in the school district.
She encouraged her student to craft a proposal that she would then share with the school district’s administration, including Superintendent Bob Beers, and the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional Board of Education
“I know that inclusivity is big and adding soccer would help,” Pennell admitted. “This would be big for all types of different kids to play.”
In August of this year, Pennell’s mission was accomplished.
“I got an email from the board of ed president Steve Singer that we would have a soccer team and that a girls’ team would follow,” Coach Turnbull recalled.
““I was impressed with his efforts to reach out to me, Mr. Beers and the board of education to advocate for the addition of the soccer program,” Principal Corliss declared. “We appreciate the board of education's support in growing the sports program to include travel soccer at BRMS. “
Superintendent Beers was all for the prospect of middle school soccer teams when he received the proposal.
“The more programs that we can get kids involved in, is certainly a wise investment,” Superintendent Beers stated.
Young Pennell was enjoying his vacation in Maine when he received the terrific news.
So his first order of business was to thank all who were responsible.
“I sent an email to all of our supporters and I thanked them for the opportunity,” he said.
The Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School officials quickly went to work to form the teams and name the coaches. And, of course, attract the players.
An email was distributed through the district—and the Middle School families responded.
A total 68 students tried out for the boys’’ team and 60 attended tryouts for the girls’ squad.
Of course, Pennell did his share to recruit, too.
“I started talking to kids and told them to come and try out,” he said.
Coaches Turnbull and Jarvis trimmed that number down to the current roster of 24 boys.
The coaches for the girls’ unit, Mike Mackus and Mike Geremia, shaped their team to its present total of 27.
“I was very excited when I saw the middle school was planning to add soccer to the program of travel sports this year. I have coached at the middle school for 10 years and I have seen a lot of talented athletes in our basketball and baseball programs who also love the game of soccer,” Coach Mackus said.
First-year programs usually experience growing pains and often stumble out of the gate.
But not these Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School students.
“We are fortunate to have a group of very talented players who are supportive teammates and hard workers. They take their commitment to the team seriously but also know how to have fun, so it is a great group to be around.”
Coach Mackus singled out a few of his talented players.
“We have a strong cast of 8th graders including Stella Grant and Summer Winchock who do a great job controlling the game at the center midfield position, Sofia Cassamento who shows off her speed and quickness at striker, and Emma Kipila who anchors the team at goalkeeper,” the coach reported.
The girls’ squad boosted its record to 4-0 on September 30 when Bridgewater-Raritan posted a 4-1 victory over Montgomery at the Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School.
The girls may be a rookie class, but Coach Geremia revealed what he feels has resulted in the undefeated start.
“They do everything together. It is all about each other,” Coach Geremia explained. “They all contribute and they all look out for each other.”
On the boys’ side where the victories have also been delivered. Coaches Turnbull and Jarvis praised a few of their standouts, including Pennell, who plays midfield and forward.
Goalie Matthew Yacykewych, defender Matteo Ucciferri, midfielder/defender Chris Cabera, midfielder Myles Iazitari and striker Pranithvarman Mahendravarman have been key contributors to the team's strong play.
"We are thrilled to be able to expand our robust sports programs to include travel soccer. There is a great deal of interest from the community and the board's support in creating these additional teams has helped to ensure that we are providing extracurricular programming that aligns with student interests. We are excited for the rest of the season and proud of both teams' accomplishments already,” said Conor Scott, the Middle School Assistant Principal for 8th Grade.
The desire of one student helped set all of this up.
“He has some gumption,” Coach Turnbull said about Pennell. “It took a kid to put all of this in motion.”