August 30, 2006 - When the soccer players of the Immaculate Heart High School complain about having to run laps, head coach Cathal Ledwith knows how to put them in their place.
All it takes is a story or two from the man known affectionately as "Ledge" about playing his high school ball in four inches of mud created by the unrelenting Ireland rain and his players are back to circling the field.
But complaints about working hard are few and far between for Immaculate Heart, where wins are few but soccer is fun for the 17 players and soft-spoken, soccer-crazy coach.
In fact, running laps and conditioning is one of the more entertaining parts of a Ledge practice. Laps are interactive and involve intricate, and sometimes complicated, crisscrosses designed to simulate soccer movements. It concludes with an athletic version of leapfrog.
"We want them to stay in shape so we run a lot but we try to change it up so they won't get too bored," said Ledwith. "That way at least they are laughing."
Since taking over the fledgling program three years ago, Ledwith has slowly turned Immaculate Heart into a viable soccer entity.
Combining the athleticism of his upperclassmen with the speed and raw energy of his freshman, Ledwith has a team this season that he expects to win a lot more than the two games it won last year.
"This is probably the best team that we've had," said Ledwith. "This is my third year and this is the one that looks the most like a soccer team."
When the program first began two years ago, most players were so inexperienced, even the most routine fundamentals like kicking the ball had to be taught. But the team pushed on.
Now, players such as Luis Salmon have taken notice and appreciate how far a little hard work can go.
"Two years ago we were in our own little world, just kicking it around," said the third-year veteran. "Now we can play as a team, work some moves and pass it around."
You might say that soccer is in Ledwith's blood and a vital part of his existence and Ledge would more than agree.
After moving to the United States from Ireland in 1987 after high school, Ledwith wound up in Southern Arizona playing for the Tucson Amigos, a semipro club. From there, his playing days continued to professional clubs in Phoenix (the Sand Sharks) and San Diego.
At 38, Ledge's playing days are over but coaching is still his life. Away from Immaculate Heart, Ledwith is a coach for Nike Rush, a Tucson club team playing out of Fort Lowell Park.
"It drives me crazy to coach," laughs Ledwith. "I get anxious."
Although controlling the urge to suit up can be difficult, Ledwith finds peace with the sport on the sidelines.
"It's definitely second to playing but, most of all I love the kids," said the coach. "It makes me feel young and it's as if I turn into a kid myself. The more I can help them, the better it makes me feel."
Immaculate Heart will have its work cut out for it, however, this season. The team, which comprises nearly a third of the school's total enrollment, will face much bigger schools such as Pusch Ridge Christian Academy and Desert Christian High School. But with a little hard work and some faith, perhaps they can take some teams directly to the ledge.