Prep soccer2.jpg

Less than a week after folding its program due to a lack of players, the Poca boys soccer team is back up and running as of Wednesday afternoon with some help from overseas.

A foreign exchange student enrolled at Poca this week and, after hearing the plight of the program, volunteered to play, giving the Dots 15 players on its roster, the minimum required by the Putnam County Board of Education. Talks between Poca’s administration and the board began on Tuesday, and by Wednesday the exhange student and Poca’s 14 other players were cleared to resume play beginning with a 6 p.m. practice on Wednesday.

“It’s been a good day,” coach Brock Jarrett said. “I got to meet with the team at lunchtime today. They were just overly excited and glad to get back out there. Everybody was down in the dumps and thinking, ‘This isn’t going to happen. Our season’s over.’ You just never know what’s going to happen. It’s incredible that this kid showed up this week, talk about dumb luck.”

Also incredible was the outpouring of support from parents, surrounding communities and far beyond. It started just after being told to cease operation last Thursday, as parents and players gathered at the Putnam County Board of Educations holding signs and protesting the decision to abide by the letter of the law.

An online petition circulated in the days after the program folded and as of Tuesday night had reached well north of 7,100 signatures. State senator Glenn Jeffries wrote the school board a letter, encouraging it to review and restructure the hard 15-player limit to avoid similar future complications.

A Facebook group called, “Save Poca Soccer” was created and was renamed “Poca High School Soccer” on Wednesday afternoon after the news of being reinstated came down. As of Wednesday, that group had 977 members.

“That was crazy, just the amount of support and the people reaching out not just around here,” Jarrett said. “We had messages from people in New Zealand, in Guam, in England and about all of the United States.”

The program will carry an 0-5 record into Thursday’s contest against Chapmanville scheduled for 6 p.m. at Poca.

The Dots started out with 15 players on the roster, but one was ruled academically ineligible before the season. Poca played five games before the Putnam County rule surfaced and threatened to shut down the Dots’ season for good. The foreign exchange student will need 14 practices to be eligible to play in games, but with him in the fold, the board allowed the team to resume.

In an interesting twist, Chapmanville will bring just nine players to Thursday’s game against Poca, with Jarrett anticipating playing a 9-on-9 match. By rule, a game can be played and will count with a minimum of eight players on each side and an agreement between coaches.

The match has been deemed a “Red Out” with calls to fill the stands circulating on Facebook.

Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, ryan.pritt@wvgazettemail.com or follow him @RPritt on Twitter.