Sophomore Michael Mardikes was just another player in a white shirt with his name written in Sharpie on the back. It was his first day of East soccer tryouts at Indian Hills Middle School (IHMS) and he was nervous. It didn’t matter that he had been playing soccer since he was five and premier soccer since he was nine. Even the fact that he played at the Sporting Kansas City Academy for the past three years meant nothing. Mardikes was nervous because he wanted to prove that he was a good player, not just because he had played for Sporting KC Academy.
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This was Mardikes’ first year trying out for the East team despite the fact that he’s a sophomore. Last year, Mardikes played for Sporting Kansas City Academy. The Academy, also known as Sporting KC Juniors, is an elite soccer team for boys under 18 run by the Major League Soccer (MLS) team Sporting Kansas City. By practicing almost year-round, the team prepares players to compete professionally or in college.
Mardikes has dreamed of playing soccer in college or on a professional team since he was five. To continue reaching for that goal, Mardikes tried out for Sporting KC Juniors in seventh grade after hearing about the program through a family friend. The team seemed like the perfect opportunity for Mardikes to keep improving and pushing himself while getting his name out to different schools. Mardikes survived three days of callbacks with over 50 other people trying out to make their U12 team.
On Sporting KC Juniors, Mardikes and his teammates would practice five to six days a week at the Sporting KC training facilities in Swope Park in Kansas City, Mo. These practices consisted of weights, possession drills and scrimmage that would last over an hour and half. Although Mardikes was improving, the long practices started affecting his personal life. So in February 2013 after playing on the team for three years, Mardikes made the decision to leave.
Mardikes decided to quit Sporting KC Juniors to become more involved at East and have a better social life. Mardikes came to East his freshman year after taking classes his eighth grade year at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC). Mardikes’ father works at UMKC and created a homeschooling plan for him and his older sister, Rebecca. They entered the school as transfer students and took classes in history, math, language, Spanish and science.
“It really got awkward at one point [at UMKC] because this one lady brought in her daughter [to class],” Mardikes said. “She was probably in her 40’s or so and her daughter was 12. It was just kind of awkward to know that I should be in class with her daughter rather than her [mother].”
Although Mardikes enjoyed taking classes at UMKC, he wanted to be around students his own age. He shadowed former East soccer player Andrew Manalo to get a better sense of East.
“I hadn’t heard anything bad about East, it sounded great so I decided to give it a chance,” Mardikes said. “I liked what I saw so I decided to go ahead and give it a shot.”
During his freshman year at East, Mardikes didn’t meet people as quickly as his other friends had.
“I know people who came over to the school and they did sports their freshman year, and they got to know people a lot quicker and they got some friends,” Mardikes said. “I was just kind of awkward sitting at lunch.”
This isolation was what prompted Mardikes to quit playing for Sporting KC Juniors. His decision wasn’t made over night, as most players who quit are unlikely to return. Mardikes understood the advantages given to Sporting KC Juniors who are looking to play professionally or in college, but giving up playing for Sporting KC Juniors was the sacrifice he was willing to make.
Mardikes, a defender, was one of three sophomores to make varsity this year and he’s already made an impact on the team.
“He’s already got three goals,” head coach Jamie Kelly said. “He’s actually tied for the lead in goals cause he’s scored off a bunch of corner kicks this year. He’s definitely making an impact not just defensively, but offensively too.”
After graduating so many seniors last year, Kelly went into the season worried about his defense. But Mardikes’ big presence on the defensive line has been a large benefit to the team.
“He makes our forwards better because they have to beat him in practice,” Kelly said. “He makes our other defenders better. They can play with confidence knowing that they’ve got a big, solid, strong player in the back.”
Despite being a defender, Mardikes scored the first goal of the 2013 season off a corner kick against SM West. He scored two more in a 10-0 victory against Schalge High School as part of the KAMO soccer tournament.
“He’s already an integral part of our defense, and he’s been able to capitalize on his chances to score, which is usually uncommon for central defenders,” senior midfielder Dylan Martz said.
The move to East was necessary for Mardikes and one that he doesn’t regret. Mardikes will continue to keep working towards his goal of playing soccer in college. Only not in Sporting Blue, but in Columbia blue.