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updated: 4/19/2014 9:32 PM

Allied soccer's first effort is truly special

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  • Stevenson's Jennifer Callen celebrates her second-quarter goal while teammate Daniel Kahn cheers her on during Saturday's Allied Soccer Match with Mundelein at Stevenson.

       Stevenson's Jennifer Callen celebrates her second-quarter goal while teammate Daniel Kahn cheers her on during Saturday's Allied Soccer Match with Mundelein at Stevenson.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Mundelein's Martyna Grishaber, left, and Stevenson's Joshua Standiford compete for control of the ball during Saturday's Allied Soccer Match at Stevenson.

       Mundelein's Martyna Grishaber, left, and Stevenson's Joshua Standiford compete for control of the ball during Saturday's Allied Soccer Match at Stevenson.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Mundelein's Danny Grishaber controls the ball during Saturday's Allied Soccer Match at Stevenson.

       Mundelein's Danny Grishaber controls the ball during Saturday's Allied Soccer Match at Stevenson.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 

After a competitive coed match that featured several wickedly kicked soccer balls, a concerned Ernie Billittier approached a student who was flexing her jaw.

"One of the girls (a helper, or 'buddy') was like, 'My face hurts,'" Mundelein's coach said. "I asked her if she got hit with the ball. She's like, 'No. I haven't smiled like that in a long time.' "

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If you watched the reaction of Stevenson's Josh Standiford after one of his -- not one, not two, not three -- four goals, you smiled for the animated Stevenson freshman. It didn't matter if you were rooting for Stevenson or Mundelein.

Standiford hopped, skipped, pumped his arm. Then he did it again. And again, as he trotted proudly back to his position on Stevenson's turf.

"A little celebration. My scoring celebration," said Standiford, who might love soccer as much as he does his Miami Dolphins.

They made history at Stevenson on a Saturday afternoon that didn't require the sunshine -- not that anyone was complaining about it -- to make it a bright day.

Behind 6 goals from Jonathan Rodriguez, Mundelein beat host Stevenson 8-5 in the first Allied Soccer game ever played for either high school. The program is for boys and girls with disabilities.

"I'm emotional about how it came to have a game like this," said longtime Stevenson coach Mark Schartner, who praised his school's administration, including athletic director Trish Betthauser, for making Saturday possible. "The IHSA really wants to do its part to develop special-need programs throughout the state -- not just soccer, but many sports."

For Schartner, the endeavor combines two of his passions. He recently retired from the special education district of Lake County. The Patriots' boys soccer coach for 27 years, he gave up the girls program this spring to take on the school's newest sports endeavor. He's assisted by former player and current Stevenson special ed teacher Shannon Kolze.

It was about a year and a half ago that the process to form the allied team at Stevenson started. When the administration asked for those who might be interested in coaching, Schartner and Kolze jumped at the chance.

"Sixty-two years old, and I get to start something brand new. How often does that happen?" Schartner said. "It's difficult giving up the girls in the spring. But, oh my gosh, the rewards of doing this have been amazing."

Billittier's smile after the game suggested he felt the same sense of pride. His dad -- also named Ernie -- has worked with the AYSO's VIP special-ed soccer program for years. Brother Eric has been working in the special ed program at MHS for the last few years.

"I had a blast," said Billittier, who was joined on the sideline by his dad and brother. "My experience with this type of event is not as much as my brother and dad's. They were really instrumental in allowing Mundelein to have a team. I didn't know what to expect, and Coach Schartner was a great leader for this. He really helped me out. I think it was just a great day."

The best part?

"Making goals -- and running," the speedy Rodriguez, whose straight black hair and soccer skills resemble Billittier's, said with a smile.

This was cool, too: Siblings Danny and Martyna Grishaber each scored a goal for Mundelein.

Jennifer Callen canned Stevenson's other goal, knocking in a rebound of a Standiford shot.

"Finally," she said excitedly, after she had a couple of earlier opportunities thwarted.

Finally, special-ed kids at high schools such at Stevenson, Mundelein, Vernon Hills and Warren have the opportunity to participate in a real game on a varsity soccer field, wear a school uniform, have their name announced over the PA system, high-five and hug after a game, win or lose, have their student peers cheer for them from the stands.

"He's carrying the team on his back," a Stevenson student said after Standiford's third straight goal pulled the Patriots even at 3-3 in the second quarter.

"Very successful afternoon," said Billittier, whose own face might have been hurting too from smiling so much. "It was just cool. I was just happy to be a part of it."

If you missed Saturday's game, Stevenson hosts Warren next Saturday at 1 p.m.

"It's an amazing journey to get this far," Schartner said.

It's only the start.

As a visitor was exiting Stevenson's stadium, Standiford, the Patriots' goal-scoring machine, extended an invitation.

"I have one more thing to say," he said. "We will meet again. We will meet again."

Yes, on a soccer field near you.

jaguilar@dailyherald.com

Follow Joe on Twitter: @JoeAguilar64

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