- Abby Goldstein (Grade 6 Second Place): Miracle off the Pitch – see below
- Emma Shay-Tannas (Grade 6 Honorable Mention): Behind the Goal
- Ariel Skonick (Grade 6 Honorable Mention): Gleaming Heart of Gold
Abby Goldstein, Grade 6
Solomon Schechter Day School, Newton
Miracle Off the Pitch
“Mili, you can be on our team!” Last June, seven girls from my Natick town soccer team lifted a sign with these words addressing Mili Hernandez, an 8 year old girl from Nebraska. Mili is a cute, spunky girl with very short dark hair. Her full name is Milagros, which in Spanish means “miracles”. Mili’s soccer team, Azzurri Cachorros Chicas, was registered to compete in a soccer tournament, but parents on the opposing team questioned why a “boy” was playing on a girls’ team. Volunteer director Ray Heimes from the Springfield Soccer Invitational checked the roster which mistakenly noted M for male instead of F for female next to Mili’s name. The organizers didn’t investigate further to confirm their suspicion before deciding to disqualify Mili’s team, even though her father produced a health identification card showing she was a girl. Probably, if Mili had longer hair and more so-called feminine features, the tournament officials would have realized the error.
Mili’s team could have been angry about their elimination from the competition, but instead, showed solidarity, by cutting their hair shorter. Word spread quickly through the media, and people voiced their outrage that a girl would be discriminated against because of her appearance. Soccer teams around the world responded as well. Some teams took pictures showing signs of support like ours. Others, like a woman’s club in Sydney, Australia, The Flying Bats, cut their hair and posted pictures. Even U.S. Soccer Olympians Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach supported Mili, by posting, “You’re inspiring” and “You’re a natural-born leader, honey, and I’m so proud of you.” They also invited Mili to participate in Hamm’s week long soccer youth camp in Massachusetts.
I play on my town’s travel soccer and youth basketball teams. I also dance competitively. I’ve learned many moves, can pass, shoot and score, but the most important thing I’ve learned in sports is good sportsmanship. I know that we all face adversity everyday. Adults have challenges at work, and kids face obstacles at school and with friends. A good sport treats their teammates and opponents with respect and competes fairly even when faced with challenges. We can’t win every soccer game or dance tournament, just like we can’t always win at business or in school, but it would be more frustrating if people didn’t have the courage to play fair.
The reaction of so many people around the world to Mili’s situation is a great reminder of good sportsmanship. What happened to Mili’s team was unfair, and incredibly frustrating. It was like losing a close game to a last- second goal after trying your hardest for 40 minutes. But it would have been harder if people didn’t care, or show their support. The whole game is better when good sports do what’s right for the sport, and not just for their team. When my team heard about Mili Hernandez, we knew we had to support Azzurri Cachorros Chicas. Now Mili is back on the pitch, playing the game she loves with a full heart thanks to the miracle of support and good sportsmanship that lives in her name.