Lee Horton said there haven’t been many times in his 36-year career as a soccer coach that he had a chance to really enjoy the moment with his teams.
The North Carolina Soccer and United States’ Soccer League Hall of Fame inductee has always moved on to the next season as he juggles his roles as head coach of Charlotte Latin’s boys and girls teams, and the Charlotte Eagles (first head coach of mens team then womens head coach from 2000-2015) professional squad, year round.
After retiring from the Charlotte Eagles last season, Horton was eager to spend more time with Charlotte Latin soccer players.
What began as a plan to take the Charlotte Latin boys team to Europe, earlier this month (July 5-12) turned a trip for the girls to Trinidad and Tobago. Horton, who has taken the Latin boys’ teams to Holland and Italy, and then to Spain on another trip, wanted his girls to enjoy the same type of experience.
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I looked at the girls and asked them how many high school teams ever get the opportunity to do something like this together. Then, I asked how many of you have played in an international game?The amazing thing is the girls just looked at each other and looked back at me, and didn’t say a word.
Charlotte Latin Coach Lee Horton
Instead of telling them what to expect, Horton asked the girls two questions during the van ride to Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
“I looked at the girls and asked them how many high school teams ever get the opportunity to do something like this together?” Horton said. “Then, I asked how many of you have played in an international game?
“The amazing thing is the girls just looked at each other and looked back at me, and didn’t say a word. But you could tell by the look on faces that they all knew how special this trip would be. I wanted them to understand that before we ever got on the plane.”
Charlotte Latin rising junior forward, Mary Elliott McCabe (UNC commit), who led the Hawks with 28 goals this past season, said Horton’s questions put everything into perspective.
“When Coach Horton talked to us on ride to the airport we all just got silent, and I think we were all excited and realized how great of an opportunity we were getting, but that really made us think twice about the significance of the trip,” McCabe said. “From that point forward we all knew we had to cherish every moment of this experience and make the most out of it.”
She went on to lead the team on the trip with six goals.
Twelve Charlotte Latin soccer players, four parents, Horton and his wife, Mercedes, made the five-hour flight to Trinidad on July 5. The team stayed at Hilton Trinidad Hotel and Conference Center in the Port of Spain.
Senior co-captain, Harper McCabe, who recently graduated, as well as five rising juniors in Claudia Dickey, Ashley Foley, Sutton Jones, Mary Elliott McCabe (Harper’s sister) and Ellie Norman led the way. Rising sophomores, Anna Calloway, Ruthie Jones and Megan Tomlin also played for the recent, Latin NCISAA 3A state championship team (2016).
Meanwhile, rising freshmen, Brooke Norman and her younger, sister, Ashley Norman, a rising eighth-grader would also make their debuts on the trip.
Horton also arranged for a few, local players from Trinidad to serve as substitutes, if needed.
Horton’s team dominated on the field, beating Trinidad’s U15 National team pool squad 5-0 in their opening game, 3-0 three days later and then also beating a U17 Trinidad club team, 10-0 in their finale.
Horton and his team took a lot of pride in their performance.
“Being able to outscore the teams 18-0 on our trip is another statement for American women’s soccer,” Horton said. “This was the first time some of these girls have ever played together. To play that well against Trinidad and Tobago teams on their home turf really says a lot about our team.
“While you never know until you play the games, I wasn’t surprised that our girls did so well. We don’t have average players, we have a great team with some of our girls going to the top college programs in the country.”
Beyond the games
On July 9, the girls traveled by bus to a lesser privileged area of Trinidad to conduct a soccer camp.
“Being able to work with the kids at our soccer camp, and just put a smile on their faces was something I will never forget,” said Ellie Norman. “I have pictures of the day, but even if I didn’t have pictures, I would still never forget the looks on those kids’ faces. But as much as it meant to the kids, I think it meant just as much to our team. We all had so much fun, we didn’t want to leave the kids. It was everyone’s favorite part of the trip.”
Their efforts have since inspired Premier International Tours (the company that organized Latin’s trip) to donate more soccer equipment and money to the Trinidad soccer program, Horton said.
Horton said he got to know his players on a more personal level. He said everyone got a chance to bond with their friends and family in team activities, including a trip to a bat cave, multiple team dinners, snorkeling, zip-lining and other activities.
Harper and Mary Elliott McCabe along with their mother, Jennifer, got to have their last trip together, before Harper goes to Clemson University next month.
Ellie, Ashley and Brooke Norman got to share their first experience on the same Latin team together with their mother, Andra.
“The trip brought the entire team closer together,” Ellie Norman said. “But for my family, it was very special, because not only did we all three get to play together for the first time, but we all scored goals. That second game, both my sisters, Ashley and Brooke, scored their first, Latin goals with my mom watching, it was something we will all remember forever.”
Horton and his players believe the bond they established in Trinidad and Tobago will carry over into the Latin girls’ bid for a third state title.
Last year, their team theme in the locker room and in every team huddle was “Pursue the Two.”
This year, while they haven’t picked an official theme, one possibly is “See the Three,” according to McCabe.
“I’m not sure if ‘See the Three,’ will stick,” said McCabe, laughing. “But our goals will stay the same. This trip was a great way to get started towards that goal.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.