Two years ago, the Hollister Strikers club soccer team wasn’t well known outside of San Benito County.
“We were a bunch of nobodies,” Strikers coach Greg Dolan said. “But now people know us throughout California.”
Indeed, the Strikers—a 17-and-under travel ball soccer team that is part of the Hollister Tremors organization—have soared up the state rankings after two third-place finishes in top-flight tournaments within the last two months. Hollister took third in both the Copa Monterey in Salinas and District 2 Cup in San Carlos despite having not lost a game in either tournament.
The Strikers only finished third based on goal differential. In the Copa Monterey, they played against soccer academies. In the District 2 Cup, they played a team based out of Los Gatos that is sponsored by Liverpool F.C., which competes in the Premier League. Lately, the Strikers have made news by doing landscaping jobs to help fund its trip to Ireland on July 9 to play in the Irish European Invitational.
Hollister will play two games in the tournament in Dublin against the biggest and most prestigious academy in all of Ireland in St. Kevin’s Boys. The Strikers also scheduled three other matches in three different cities: one against Edenderry FC in Offaly, against Dunboyne United in Meath and against Drogheda Untied in Drogheda.
Edenderry FC is the reigning all-Ireland league champion. The only thing more impressive than Hollister playing in the tournament is how it raised funds to get there. The former happened when Dolan—who was born in Ireland—was back in his native country last December visiting family.
Tossing down a couple of pints of Guinness—or six with his brother and friends—Dolan accepted the challenge of bringing his team to play against tough international competition after a long conversation with his brother and friends.
Only one problem: Dolan had no recollection of the conversation until two weeks later, when he received an email confirmation of the Strikers participating in the invitational. From there, Dolan had to figure out a way to raise at least $25,000 to cover airfare, accommodations and miscellaneous activities.
Instead of relying on the traditional method—raffle tickets for prize giveaways and candy bar sales—Dolan thought it would be best for the boys to do some manual labor. In March, the team started to do landscaping jobs—consisting of a heavy dose of pulling weeds at homes, alleys and properties from Morgan Hill to San Juan Bautista—several times a week for three months.
In that time, Dolan said the team raised approximately $35,000—not too shabby considering there are other youth organizations in Hollister that also do fundraising vying for those precious dollars.
“We were competing against Hollister Little League (baseball) and the Girl Scouts in town, so we needed to do something different,” Dolan said. “We fell into a gold mine of doing jobs that involved getting our clothes dirty.”
After the first job, Dolan posted the activity on Facebook.
“Before you know it, we have three weeks of jobs lined up,” he said. “We came across some amazingly—and I can’t emphasize it enough—generous people in Hollister and beyond. The generosity of these people was ridiculous. … We basically raised $35,000 on top of each parent giving $600, which is enough to give us air travel, accommodations and breakfast food. … I didn’t want to say to the players’ families that it would cost $1500—I knew I would lose half the team. I didn’t want this to be a burden on local businesses, and I especially didn’t want it to be a burden on the parents because they’re genuinely good hard-working people.”
Dolan, who owns Shamrock Funding Mortgage Company in Hollister, typically picked up the boys after school before completing a couple of jobs and dropping them off at their respective homes.
“We were literally going six to seven days a week at one point,” he said. “But I emphasized to the parents if this in any way was going to interfere with their grades, we’re going to stop this right now.”
Dolan used the team’s manual labor fundraising project as a lesson on life. Any time he heard a player complain about pulling a weed, Dolan told them, “This is your life if you don’t go to college. So you make a choice right now and get your head out of your butt and make the decision to take school seriously.”
Dolan emphasized there was nothing wrong with doing manual labor as a profession; however, his point was to stress how important it was to take school seriously. Dolan believes in the potential of his entire roster, which includes Jose Agredano, Edgar Barbosa, Manuel Castro, Juan Catalan, Jaime Coria, Ramon Delgado, Oliver Dolan, Jose Gallegos, Erwin Gomes, Abraham Hernandez, Carlos Hernandez, Jacob Hernandez, Pedro Laguna, Manuel Luna, Diego Martinez, Manual Mora, Danny Navarro, Ricardo Nunez and Eric Servin.
Barbosa, a forward, is tenacious on and off the ball. Delgado is a two-way threat from the defender position. He is the team’s top goal scorer, and loves to win 50-50 balls. In fact, most of Delgado’s goals have come on corner kicks, when he beats opposing players to a spot before rising above them for a header.
“He’ll use his head, butt or anything to get that ball over the line,” Dolan said. “Ramon is also a monster on defense—just a stud.”
Agredano, a center midfielder, moves well with the ball and creates scoring opportunities for his teammates. Gomes, a center midfielder, brings plenty of toughness to the field.
“He’s one of the smaller guys on the team, but one of the toughest mothers if you know what I mean,” Dolan said. “He’s a very skillful player who will have a good chance to play in college.”
That is one of Dolan’s many goals for the program—to get his players athletic scholarships. That would further validate the program as one on the rise. The Tremors are a budding organization filled with potential.
Hollister, of course, is passionate about its sports. Among the boys, baseball and football dominate the participation. However, there is no doubt that Hollister is a growing soccer hotbed, and Dolan went as far as to say that it’s an area rich with soccer talent. The Tremors practice at Vets Park, which is a fine facility for baseball and softball but not exactly the Taj Mahal for soccer.
To that end, Dolan knows he has to do an excellent job of fundraising and pouring additional resources into getting the program a new facility.
“It’s getting harder and harder to accommodate the demands for soccer here,” he said. “We just don’t have the area for all the girls and boys who want to play at a recreational and competitive level. This past year we formed 10 new competitive teams from the ages of 10 to 15.”
Dolan said the parents of the players have been a huge part of the growth of the program.
“We have parents who will do anything for me—literally,” he said. “They’ve helped create a great family, and that’s the best thing that’s happened to this team in the last year and a half.”
During each practice, the team repeats a mantra: You complain, you don’t get on the plane. Putting in over 100 hours of work over the last couple of months has made the players that much tougher and disciplined, traits that will transfer into other areas of their lives.
“I’m so proud of each and every one of them,” Dolan said. “They earned a lot of money by pure hard work. I wanted the boys to grow, not just on the field, but also in life and in the classroom. To see what their hard work has earned them is amazing. I mean back in December, the thought of playing in Ireland was just a joke. But the boys made it happen. Hopefully this will be a life-changing moment for all of them.”