At Providence Central High School, soccer is a way to stand out

PROVIDENCE — Michael Washington made football work for him.

The game itself was a piece of the puzzle. Academics, discipline and a good dose of determination, that completed the rest. The former Central backfield star now calls the shots as the head coach of her alma mater.

If there is one thing that Washington is trying to convince his group of Knights, it is this. Use sport as part of your path to something better. Escape all the stereotypical problems that come with attending a public high school in the city and start thriving.

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Central High School, shown at opening practice in Providence last month, is among four Division I teams this season in Rhode Island, with Bishop Hendricken, La Salle and North Kingstown.

‘My children have to play football’

“This is our reality: A lot of these kids have to play soccer,” Washington said. “A lot of kids in those other schools play soccer for fun. My children have to play soccer to get ahead. My children have to play soccer to take the next step in life.

“A lot of these kids don’t have cars. Many of these kids do not have a college plan in place for them. For a lot of these kids, this is literally their only option to get to the next place. I put it in their face all the time: ‘You are facing challenges that other schools don’t have.’ A lot of the kids we play against are privileged.

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Coach Michael Washington gave his team one final word of support before wrapping up their first day of practice at Bucklin Park in Providence last month.

“Guys have to take this moment and take advantage of it. This right here is the chance of a lifetime. Many people are watching you play. Many people understand the odds we are up against. If you can beat these odds, you’ll look even better.”

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This particular late-summer afternoon, the buses are running late at the Central-adopted driving range at Bucklin Park. Nearby middle and elementary schools are letting out as an employee from the West End Recreation Center walks up to open the gates. The Knights jog on the new field turf before the coaching staff – they’re late and driving from school.

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