Soccer, for the most part, is a second tier sport in popularity in the United States.
The game has come along over the years. Especially, in Southwest Colorado. It just took a kid from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, to kick start things around this region.
Central America’s hot ticket is soccer. Jarly Lopez, 42, grew up playing in Honduras, until he moved with his family to Cortez when he was 10. Lopez was able to play a couple years on a youth soccer team here in town. When he reached Montezuma-Cortez High School in 1983, Lopez played basketball. The soccer player didn’t play soccer, because there wasn’t a soccer team to play on.
“My brothers (Zadik Lopez and George Huezo) and I, we really wanted to play,” Jarly Lopez said. “We heard about high school teams that had them (soccer teams). We just wanted to play. That’s what we grew up with.”
Jarly Lopez and Huezo decided to go around town getting people to sign a petition for M-CHS to start up soccer in 1986. The brothers collected more than 100 signatures, and presented the petition to the school’s superintendant at the time. The idea of high school soccer at Montezuma-Cortez initially received mixed reviews.
“He looked at it kind of weird and said, ‘We’ll see what happens,’” Jarly Lopez said about the superintendant.
The school board went ahead and examined the idea of M-CHS soccer. Within a year, the goal was realized, and a new M-CHS sport was born.
Jarly Lopez was a senior when the inaugural season of Panthers soccer began in the 1986-87 school year. M-CHS went 9-2 in that first season under coach Dick Donahue.
There is a photograph of Jarly Lopez playing soccer in one of the trophy cases at M-CHS, recognizing the midfielder as a sports pioneer at the school. Younger brother Zadik Lopez played the first three seasons of Panthers soccer.
In the last quarter century, Jarly Lopez has liked what he has seen with soccer growth in Montezuma County.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “I can’t believe when I go back over there and I see how many soccer fields there are now. It’s not just the high school anymore or (kids playing) on the side of the road somewhere, which is what I grew up with. There are fields everywhere it seems like. It’s just exciting to see so many kids are now seeing another sport to go to.”
Upon graduation in 1987, Jarly Lopez went to college at Fort Lewis in Durango from 1989-94. He continued to play soccer in college, primarily as a defender. At the time, soccer was only a club (non-scholarship) sport at FLC, and not the NCAA Division II national power it is today.
“We had a pretty successful club team,” Jarly Lopez said.
The Skyhawks were so successful, that they would compete with, and sometimes beat NCAA D-I universities like Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona State.
Jarly Lopez pitched the idea of FLC sponsoring soccer as a NCAA sport to the dean of students. One of the main concerns was that the school thought it couldn’t afford another sport.
“Soccer is really one of the least expensive sports you can have at a school,” Jarly Lopez said. “They finally realized that, and they moved it from being a club (to an NCAA sport).”
After his freshman season, FLC added soccer to its repertoire. Since its inception, the men’s soccer team has won two NCAA D-II national championships, made 10 playoff appearances and earned eight conference titles. The FLC women’s team hasn’t done too shabby itself, winning one conference championship and appearing in the playoffs three times.
Jarly Lopez has coached at Fort Lewis by Jeremy Fishbein, who now coaches the University of New Mexico men’s top-five team.
When Jarly’s days at FLC were over, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in humanities with a minor in Spanish and psychology.
Jarly Lopez did not stay away from soccer. He tried out for the Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer after college, but did not make the final cut.
In 1993, his first coaching job came in New Mexico at Bloomfield High School as the boys junior varsity soccer coach. When Jarly Lopez earned his degree, he soon took over as head varsity coach, a position he resides over today. In 18 years at Bloomfield, the Bobcats have made the playoffs 14 times and Jarly Lopez has won three 4A District-1 Coach of the Year awards.
The M-CHS graduate even returned to his old stomping grounds at Johnson Field (then called Cockins Field) when Bloomfield took on M-CHS in soccer on Sept. 29.
“I tell my kids, ‘Hey, that’s my old team. We can’t lose to them,’” Jarly Lopez said laughing.
The Bobcats granted their coach his wish, and delivered a 10-1 victory over his alma mater.
Jarly Lopez, the son of Jorge and Rosario Huezo, who still live in Cortez, teaches Spanish at BHS and is a computer technician at the school.
The soccer coach also coaches middle school track and field in Bloomfield, where he has been named Basin League coach of the year three times. One of Jarly Lopez’ coaching methods is cross training, where he strongly encourages his soccer players to compete in cross country, and track and field.
“That’s one thing I took from Mr. Donahue, is strong conditioning,” Jarly Lopez said. “The better conditioned player seems to always do better overall.”
Jarly is married to Cortez native Michelle Lopez. The couple have two daughters together. Jaly Shizel, 6, and Aaliyah Qiana, 2.
Reach Bobby Abplanalp at email@example.com.