Cottonwood boys soccer retires No. 20 jersey in honor of seniors who couldn’t play in 2020Mar 15, 2021 02:20PM ● By Brian Shaw
The Cottonwood boys soccer team retired the No. 20 jersey in honor of seniors who couldn’t play in 2020. (Photo courtesy Dominic Militello)
By Brian Shaw | [email protected]
Hours before finding out news that would change the season for the Cottonwood boys soccer team in an instant, head coach Dominic Militello gathered his boys in a circle on a cloudy day in March 2020 and talked to them.
“One of the last things we told our kids after the second preseason game was to make sure they don't take anything for granted,” Militello said. “Always show up with a perfect attitude and a perfect effort because you never know if you have a season ending injury or if someone takes your spot in the lineup.”
A few days after that team talk, the 2020 season was officially declared over for the Cottonwood boys. Covid-19 took all the spots in the lineup. At that point, added Militello, talk turned to what the team should do next.
“The coaching staff got together after a week of being in shock that the season was canceled and started talking how we could best honor those seniors who didn't get a senior season (and everything that goes along with being a senior),” Militello said.
They came up with some wild ideas, one being that Militello wouldn’t cut his hair until the team resumed play in 2021—though he would come out of it looking like Slash of Guns N’ Roses, he joked. After brainstorming a few other ideas, they settled on a different one.
“We came up with retiring the No. 20 jersey as a reminder for every member of our program for as long as I am involved with the program (and hopefully longer) to never take the game, their teammates, or competition for granted,” said Militello, a former pro and college (UNLV) star who has been involved with some aspect of Cottonwood’s soccer program now for several years.
Militello said he and the staff then presented the idea to the players a few days later in a Zoom meeting in early April during the lockdown.
“We made the announcement to them and they all started to clap and some tears were shed,” said Militello, and added that his returning players feel a real sense of responsibility to these 2020 seniors to make the 2021 season one that they’ll all look back on with pride and admiration.
Playing for those seven 2020 seniors, Militello added, and playing well in a new region is the primary objective when the 2021 season begins in mid-March, because for guys like Naveed Hassan and Abdi Hamadi and Ryelee Penny, their final high school season was cut short. In addition, Nawraj Mongar and Murilo Hernandes, as well as Mwikwa Alinoti and Luis Hernandez all had their final year cut short and cut out, by the lockdown brought on by COVID-19.
“We will honor them the best we can moving forward,” Militello said. “And not just play but to give everything that can possibly give to try and get us some wins and at some point, some hardware.”