Tennis courts, track facilities and a soccer field resulted in those sports added to the athletic menu in a community whose denizens, those whose families have been here for generations, had little opportunity to play those before.
Watertown has long had football and basketball. Baseball and softball have become fixtures in the community over the last three decades. But Purple Tigers in tennis, soccer and/or track who grew up in Watertown have parents who likely never played those sports.
It was into that environment Jeston Gutierrez walked into in 2014 when he introduced soccer to WHS.
“We started four years ago with basically nothing,” Gutierrez said. “We had to build everything from the ground up.
“Not only the kids but the parents also, and the principal and the athletic director.”
When he began, there were two freshmen who had played in the Wilson United Soccer League in Lebanon - his son Nathaniel and Kaleb Parishier. They’re the only original players still with the program.
“Our first year, we couldn’t buy a goal,” Gutierrez said. “We played with a lot of freshmen.”
Watertown won three or four games the second year and, according to Gutierrez, may have been above .500 last year.
The breakthrough has come in this season four.
Much like the fourth-year tennis team winning district and region championships for the first time this season, the soccer team captured its first District 7-A title Thursday with a come-from-behind 3-2 win over host Smith County at the Smith County Soccer Complex in South Carthage.
Watertown trailed 2-0 before Emerson Armas scored off a Cole Miller assist. Shane Miller connected unassisted a minute later for a 2-2 halftime tie. Armas booted the game-winner and goalie Nathan Fish finished with six saves as the Purple Tigers improved to 10-3-1 for the season.
The Tigers will play host to Merrol Hyde at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Region 4-A tournament.
“From where we started to where we’ve come is really cool,” said Gutierrez, who earned district Coach of the Year honors and saw six of his players (first-teamers Miller, Fish, Nathaniel Gutierrez and Jared Tomson and second-teamers Armas and Evan Gannaway) earn all-district honors.
But a championship team does not a program make. While other programs in other sports have youth, travel and feeder school leagues constantly funneling talented and experienced players to the high school, Coach Gutierrez is still starting from scratch with most of his players.
“The younger boys on our team now, the freshmen, two of them may have played in the Lebanon league,” Gutierrez said. “We’re trying to start a youth program in Watertown. They were able to start a junior high program this year.”
This is a far cry from the environment in which Gutierrez, 47, grew up in Southern California.
“We played soccer 11 months out of the year,” he said. “My dad learned the game when he was in Europe (in the military during World War II) and he brought it back to us at home. I just grew up playing. My whole family played soccer.
“I thought everybody played.”
He wasn’t limited to futbol (the international name for what Americans call soccer). He also played American football, which earned him a college scholarship. He also played just about all the sports available in SoCal, including baseball, basketball, tennis, etc.
His son has followed in his footsteps. Nathaniel has been the Tigers’ football place-kicker the past few seasons and holds the school record for longest field goal. He signed to play for Bethel University’s football team Friday.