RIPLEY, Miss. (WTVA) -- On a sunny spring day in Ripley, there wasn’t the ping of a baseball bat nor the crunch of football pads, but the pitter-patter and shouts of a pickup soccer game.
Ripley has a very tight-knit Hispanic community which, according to alum Martin Morfin and current senior Jhasiel Bautista, cultivated a strong love for the game of soccer in the town’s youth.
"There’s a love for the game throughout everyone and it also helps us build that chemistry too, it’s like very big around here," Bautista said.
"All of our parents, they grew up playing, they know the game, they were the ones who were coaching us," Morfin added.
The parents were coaching, because up until six years ago organized soccer didn’t exist at any level in Ripley. The school stopped offering it in the 90s, but that didn’t stop Morfin and his friends from playing.
"All of us lived up here, played on the streets, we just played anywhere we could," Morfin said.
When Morfin was in 8th grade, the community rallied enough support to bring soccer back to Ripley High. Jeremy Smith was the first coach and he never coached soccer a day in his life. The team had potential, and Smith reached out to then North Pontotoc head coach Joe Hunsucker.
"From day one that I took over the program, they have come out and just had the best work ethic," Hunsucker said.
In his third year of coaching, this season, the Ripley Tigers caught fire, making it to the state championship game. Six years after the program didn’t exist and it meant a lot to senior Sergio Juarez to bring pride to his community.
"It was just an amazing feeling, I just see how much they support us in our games and how much it means to them when we win," Juarez said.
The Tigers came up short in the title game, but during their run to the championship, Coach Hunsucker started noticing a change in the atmosphere.
"The non-Hispanic community has come in and have said, hey I’ve never watched a soccer game before but I enjoy it," Hunsucker said. "So now it's different cultures coming in watching soccer games and the Hispanic community is now interacting with the non-Hispanic community and now we’re all working together to build this program up."
And for Morfin, who was a part of that original team six years ago, when the stands were virtually empty at his games, he stood in awe of how far the program has come.
"It just shows how much everyone cares about sports, no matter what it is, no matter if they don’t understand it or not," Morfin said. "It’s just fun to see all these fans come in out of nowhere and just its an honor to see everything go on the way it is now."