‘A real strong fraternity, a brotherhood’: St. John’s/Chesterton soccer team blends perfectly for state tournament run

Article Courtesy of Mark Stewart, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

DELAFIELD, Wis., November 3, 2021

It’s dusk and as the sun gives the day its final moments of light, the members of the St. John’s Northwestern Academies/Chesterton Academy soccer team are stretching after their first training of the week.

As they go through leg stretches, they count off to make sure they’re giving each muscle proper attention. One. Two. Three. Four.

They start in English and then switch to Spanish for the next count. By the time they’re done, they have counted in Korean, Japanese, German and Latin.

It’s a worldly group, just one reason it’s a special bunch.

“We’re not super complicated,” coach Greg Prospero said. “We play soccer, work hard, show up every day to work, a real strong fraternity, a brotherhood for sure.”

The season has been historic in that regard. What makes it special are the pieces that came together to make it happen.

The Lancers aren’t your typical team. The squad is a blend of two unique schools, one Catholic and one military, as well as a combination of domestic and foreign-born students. Add the usual dynamics that come with bringing a large group of individuals together for one cause and a lot of dominos had to fall into place to make the partnership work.

Sports can broaden horizons. It is a big reason athletics is considered an important part of the educational process.

One of the keys to success for the Lancers, however, has come on a more personal level.

“I would say it started with being good people,” junior Noah Schultz said. “As long as you’re a good person to everyone else and they can warm up to you, you can start building that trust and that good relationship with the other players on the field.”

The New and the Old

St. John’s/Chesterton (12-1-1) plays Sheboygan Christian/Lutheran (15-2-2) in a Division 3 semifinal at 7 p.m. Thursday at Uihlein Soccer Park. The winner will advance to the final at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

This is the second season for the co-op, which brings together one school with a long history in the state and one that some might not have heard of.

St. John’s opened 1884 and athletically gained large acclaim for its basketball teams in the 1970s. Then last season, the school produced the boys basketball state player of the year, Brandin Podziemski.

Chesterton Academy is at the opposite end of the spectrum. The school, located in Menomonee Falls, opened in 2016 and, according to the WIAA website, has an enrollment of 58. It also offers baseball and golf, which also co-op with St. John’s.

Seven Chesterton students, including Schultz, make the 30-minute drive to St. John’s Northwestern for practice after school. The team has 17 players in all.

“We were super grateful to have the opportunity to play a sport because our school, this is our sixth year as a school. We’re really young,” Schultz said. “The opportunities are really limited, especially for bigger group sports like soccer where have to have 15 people to make a team.”

All but three of the players from St. John’s Northwestern come to the boarding school from foreign countries. Six are from Mexico.

“Five out of the six of us came from the same city in Mexico, so we already knew each other,” junior Jose Pablo said. “So, it helped because we already had a group and that helped us meet people and not just be lonely and scared.”

The Mexican players – juniors Jose Maria Cota, Rafael Yan, Santiago Guerrero and Emilio Gonzalez – anchor the team’s defense.

Well built, in the words of Prospero, the unit has been the foundation of a team that finished second to University School in the Midwest Classic.

In the postseason, the Lancers have outscored their opponents, 17-1. Their play has been a major improvement over the team that won just three games last season.

“I think our heart because we always give our best in the difficult situations,” Pablo said when asked or the key to the team’s success. “We never give up and we work very hard.”

The team built chemistry and its win total despite having a limited time together. St. John’s Northwestern allots two hours per day for practice. That’s all. From there St. John’s Northwestern players return to a regimented schedule. Chesterton players, meanwhile, have to get home and handle any other responsibilities they have.

There is little time for socializing off the field, save for the bus rides to and from road games or when the team might stop for a meal after a game.

“Literally the chemistry that is built is because of their attitudes here at practice,” Prospero said.

Team Rallies Behind Coach

That’s why the coach was so touched by what happened Saturday.

That morning Prospero waited until all the players were on the bus to share the news that he would not make the trip to Lodi for a sectional final. His father was dying and wished to be with him during his final hours.

He looked into the eyes of his players and understood no matter if they were from St. John’s or Chesterton or came from Mexico or Milwaukee that they felt his pain.

“I could see they were grieving for me, knowing what I was going through,” he said. “I thought that was really the moment where I felt this team is something beyond a team. This a fraternity of guys who are playing for each other and are concerned.”

Prospero’s father died that afternoon. Meanwhile, his team scored a 2-1 come-from-behind overtime victory over Lake Country Lutheran. The key point was a save by senior goalkeeper Jonny Dorow on a penalty kick in the final seconds of regulation.

Prospero later learned that as Dorow stood on the goal line waiting to defend the kick that his thoughts were with his coach.

“From the perspective of success, that is success to me,” Prospero said. “What Jonny said to his mom and passed along to me, that’s success to me. They’re thinking beyond themselves and they’re thinking about others. If you can get a world that does that, how much better would this world be.”