Lester (in green) hopes to play soccer or basketball at Lane CC next year. Photo courtesy of Michael Sullivan, News Review
Lester (in green) hopes to play soccer or basketball at Lane CC next year. Photo courtesy of Michael Sullivan, News Review

[Editor’s note: The idea behind “Alphabet Stories” is to write one noteworthy athletics-related story about each OSAA-member school. We started with Adrian HS on Sept.18. Today’s story, almost three months later, is about Canyonville Academy. The goal will be to write two per week. While we will be relying upon athletic directors to furnish story ideas, anyone may offer suggestions by emailing [email protected]]

Cherokee Lester was a junior at Canyonville Academy in 2017 when he agreed to manage the Pilots’ boys soccer team.

He had no idea he was about to become one of its star players…

Lester came to the small college-prep boarding school, located near I-5 between Medford and Roseburg, the second semester of his sophomore year. A self-proclaimed “military brat,” Lester was an American living in Japan when his mother found the school online and decided to send him there.

“It was bittersweet at first, because I’d made all these friends in Japan,” Lester explained. “But I fell in love with it. The mountains, the trees…”

When Lester got to Canyonville Academy, he thought of himself as a basketball player. Tall, at 6-1, and a gifted athlete, he was a game changer on the basketball court, said Mark Nay, the school’s athletic director. He played two years for the Pilots and was a standout.

As for soccer? Lester had never played it and didn’t know the rules.

“I thought it was boring and wasn’t into it,” he explained.

Canyonville Academy is a small school with a diverse, predominantly-international student population. Approximately one-quarter of the boys played soccer and Lester wanted to be a part of it. As the team’s manager, he could learn about different cultures, work on communicating with others whose native languages were not English and create bonds with students from all around the world.

The soccer coach had a different idea.

Lester had rebuffed requests in the past to put on the soccer uniform but there was one coach’s challenge he could not turn down: the coach and Lester would play the FIFA soccer game on Xbox. If the coach won, Lester would join the team as its goalkeeper.

Lester went up 5-0 and thought he had it in the bag, but the coach rallied to tie the match at 5-5. They went into a shootout.

“I didn’t know how to do penalty kicks,” Lester said. “I lost because of that. Basically, my goalie let me down.”

A failure at goalkeeper in a video game turned Lester into an actual goalie on the field! You can’t make this up!

The learning curve was steep but Lester soon became competent at the position. He eventually grew into a star.

“At first, I was told to stay in the box,” Lester said. “That’s what I did. I learned more about the fundamentals of the sport as the season went along. My teammates helped me get the grasp of the game.”

Lester was on the team again his senior year. The Pilots won only two matches, yet Lester was named District 5 Goalkeeper of the Year and Honorable Mention All-State in 2A.

“That’s pretty awesome for a kid who had never played soccer before,” Nay said.

Lester said that he learned to love soccer and that playing for Canyonville Academy was a unique experience and one he won’t forget.

“It was cool because we were from all over the world trying to win,” he explained. ”We became a family playing soccer.”