SPORTS | June 30, 2021
How Two Alcott Students Turned their Love of Soccer into a College Scholarship
Ulises H. and Max O. never thought in their wildest dreams they would be playing soccer at the college level. But in the fall of 2021, the recent Alcott College Prep graduates will be part of the inaugural men’s soccer team at Black Hawk College in Moline, IL.
Ulises grew up in a soccer-loving family but didn’t pick up the sport until later in his childhood. Max was a basketball player throughout his early athletic days, but with some family encouragement, picked up soccer at the same time as Ulises.
The two began to play soccer around fourth grade while at Frank W. Reilly Elementary and, while there was some bad blood early on after Max scored a few goals on then goalie Ulises, their relationship grew into a great friendship.
This new bond took them to the same high school, Alcott, where they would be able to become leaders on their team and make their mark at their new school.
“I decided to practice individually because I wanted to become the best player on the team,” Ulises said, “ [I wanted to be] somebody that they could look up to… almost like a role model… I wanted to put Alcott on the map.”
Ulises and Max’s love of soccer and commitment to excellence on and off the field was matched by Hector Salinas, their new head coach at Alcott who joined during their sophomore year.
“I really bonded with Coach Hector, Max said, “He treated us like his kids, he cared for us.”
Ulises also bought into Coach Hector’s plan and could not wait to be a part of something special at Alcott.
“He came in and told us what his plan was and what he said to the team, [and] it made me happy… He wanted the team to be out there, to be a good team and he wanted to take us places, play more games, expose our team out there so people could know who we are. He gave 150 percent when he coached us.”
Their success at Alcott was tangible as the new-look Wildcats won their conference title and made their first-ever regional appearance in 2019. And, even with a different-looking 2020 season due to the pandemic, the two were able to show their skills for college coaches, thanks to Coach Salinas.
It was a college showcase in Davenport, Iowa where both Max and Ulises first met their future head coach, Charlie Ochoa of Black Hawk College. Coach Salinas made sure the two were ready for the showcase and could make a good impression on the Black Hawk staff.
“Without Coach Hector, this would have never happened, I would never have been exposed,” Ulises said. “He guided me to become a good role model…[Coach Salinas] contacted college coaches and took us to college showcases.”
While their soccer skills impressed the staff, Max and Ulises realized that it was also their commitment to education that would be the deciding factor on if they would be able to play soccer at the next level.
Ulises knew that in order to achieve his full potential and go to college, soccer was the answer.
“My senior year, I was about to graduate, but money-wise, while my parents always provided us with food on the table which I appreciated, I don’t think they would have had enough money [for me] to go to college,” Ulises said. “Since you can get a lot of scholarships for sports, especially for soccer, if I wanted to go to college and pursue what I wanted to pursue, I had to let my coach know and have individual practices with myself.”
Max also knew that in order to achieve the level of athletic success he wanted, he had to ensure his grades were at the best level they could be.
“For sports, I had to keep my grades up in order to play, and I feel like that was a good thing because if I started failing, I wouldn’t have been playing,” Max said. “My coach and others supported me to keep my grades up and talked about college and how if you keep on playing a sport [and keep your grades up] you can have a chance at a scholarship.”
Their athletic and academic plan worked, as the two received full-ride soccer scholarships to Black Hawk College. They truly understand the importance and impact of what a college education can provide for them as Ulises will be the first one in his family to attend college, while Max will be continuing the impressive education roadmap that his older siblings have followed and instilled in him. They are also the only two Alcott graduates that received an athletic scholarship this year.
“Since I was little, I never thought I was going to play soccer in college or think I would ever be offered a scholarship at all,” Ulises said. “So when they offered me a scholarship, I was really happy, because I was able to help my parents pay for college, help me go to college, and help me pursue what I wanted to pursue. They want the best for me.”
Max was also incredibly proud of his scholarship: “I felt very excited about it. I felt like I accomplished something I always wanted to. For my family, my sister goes to DePaul and my brother is in the military, so for me, I felt like I should follow their path and continue school and pursue a career.”
Ulises sees a similar opportunity at Black Hawk as he did at Alcott, an incredibly supportive coach and an open canvas where he can make history.
“He [Coach Ochoa] was telling me he wanted to put Black Hawk’s name out there…It reminded me of Coach Hector… he wanted good things for the team, which I want as well…He also said he will help me out with school and anything else I needed…He wants to make history and I like that idea as well since I made history with Alcott and I want to make history with Black Hawk … and that screamed to me why Black Hawk was the school I should go to. “
The two soccer standouts expressed many times that they would not be where they are today without the incredible support of their teachers and coaches at Alcott.
“Alcott is a small school, and the teachers helped me there and communicated with me there,” Max said. “We liked the community, the teachers, and the staff.”
“At Alcott, the teachers are very supportive. They tell you to reach for the stars because that is where we should all go if we want to be successful in life,” Ulises said. “Us going to college is a huge accomplishment for us and them. They are very supportive. CPS has certain plans for you after you graduate…the structure is to make your plan of where you want to go, and they see if it is a good fit for you. That’s what I like about CPS, they don’t let you just leave and live life on your own.”
Ulises and Max are also looking forward to getting a chance to live outside their Chicago bubble and pursue their dreams in a new city as adults.
“I wanted to try to get to a college where I could leave my house…live on my own,” Max said.
“It’s time to explore outside Chicago…I want to explore outside the city,” Ulises said. “I am going to be more independent, and that is what I feel like I need to become more of an adult. “
The 2021 fall soccer season is fast approaching and the CPS and Alcott community cannot wait to see what Ulises and Max are able to accomplish on and off the field in college. Ulises is leaning towards a field in nursing and Max is currently undecided but has a passion for visual communications. And while the two midfielders are still figuring out if they want to be roommates, they are ready for the challenge ahead thanks to the support and guidance they received at Alcott.