Familial wisdom and the making of an athlete

Story by Annalee Mutz • Photography by Jason Stephens

Jessie Scarpa is an accomplished soccer player from George Jenkins High School who deeply loves the game. Entering her senior year of high school, she has already been highly sought out by college soccer teams for her talent, motivation, and humble attitude on and o the eld. Jessie demonstrates that work alone does not formulate the all-star athlete. Her humility and modest demeanor are the keys to her success, along with her family who has provided the right amount of wisdom along the way.
The Lakelander: Tell us about your roots. Are you a Lakeland native?
Jessie Scarpa: I’ve lived in Lakeland all of my life, but I’m a dual citizen (Canadian-American). My mother is Canadian with British/Scottish roots, and my father is American with Italian/Jewish roots.
TL: At what point did you develop a love for soccer?
Jessie: I was involved in a variety of sports at a young age. I started water skiing before I was 2. By age 3, I played t-ball at Christina Park, took swimming lessons at the YMCA, and ballet at the Highlands School of Dance. When I was a little older, I took golf lessons at the Par 3, tennis lessons on Edgewood, played indoor soccer at the YMCA, basketball at Lakeside Baptist as well as the YMCA, and started the track and eld team in kindergarten at St. Paul Lutheran School. Once I hit fth grade at St. Paul, I also played interscholastic volleyball, basketball, soccer, and boys’ ag football. I progressed onto a travel softball team and then swam competitively at Eaglebrooke.
I loved every sport — well maybe not ballet. Unlike my older sister, I always started things with hesitation. My parents say I would cry and put my finger in my mouth at the rst of every new sport, and then by the second practice I loved it! When I was younger, I would never say I had a favorite sport. I liked them all. I started a ball collection and had a love for every ball. Every birthday or Christmas I was sure to get a new softball, football, basketball, or soccer ball. When I started at George Jenkins, I wanted to play basketball as well as soccer because I also enjoy playing that sport, but it was the same season as soccer. I did track and field my freshman year (long jump, triple jump, and some sprints).
My love for soccer developed early. I played u-6 at Carter Road. Neither of my parents were soccer players, but our close family friends quickly encouraged my sisters and I to sign up. My love for the sport was totally self-driven. I think I just understood it early, and because I was always playing with a ball in my backyard, I quickly developed enough skills to feel confident. Although I could keep playing all four sports through middle school, I had to eventually pick which travel sport to concentrate on because there was too much overlap. I didn’t like letting one of the teams down and, eventually, I chose soccer over softball. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to continue playing a variety of school sports because I think that helped me develop an overall strong body and a good awareness of game concepts. A variety of sports also helps keep your mind and body from burning out on one thing.
One of the things that has helped me be humble is that I know that talents are a gift from God, and I try to use my talents to help other people. Also, my parents made me work hard around the house, and I understood at an early age that I had to be responsible for my own clean uniform, help get everything to the car, and do chores to help pay the sport fees.
TL: You come from a highly athletic family. How do you feel they’ve shaped your athletic background?
Jessie: My father played baseball at Florida Southern College and was an All-American. He went on to play in Holland. My mother was on the Canadian barefoot water ski team and won a Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal at the world championships. My uncle was also a world champion barefoot water skier. My mother and grandfather are both physical education teachers.
My parents have always encouraged me to try new things, including jumping off cliffs into lakes in Canada, walking across fallen trees on the Suwannee river, horseback riding down mountains in Australia, etc. I think they always encouraged any physical challenge, not just ones on the playing field.
Another huge influence has been my older sister, Kacy. She was never scared to try anything new, and I was always a little more cautious and quiet. I was lucky to often play on Kacy’s teams, and she was a great leader but also looked out for her little sister. She was a different kind of player than I am — she was awesome at anything defense related, and I was more of an offensive player. I think we balanced each other well. I also have to say that my younger sister, Sandy, was a totally different athlete but helped me grow. She kept everything funny. She has also been on many teams with me and has a gift for motivating players, and also for making them laugh when practices get boring.

The most important thing, whether it’s soccer or music or anything, is to love what you are doing and do it with all of your heart.

TL: What is your favorite part of playing soccer?
Jessie: It’s my stress reliever. Playing soccer allows me to escape reality and forget about all of my school stress. I can truly say that I am excited any day that I have soccer practice. I also love the family environment it provides. Your teammates become your sisters. Soccer has allowed me to make many friends from all over the country. These friends have been my teammates and some will become my future rivals.
TL: How did it feel to receive the Player of the Year award in women’s soccer for both Gatorade and the state of Florida?
Jessie: Many great athletes have received this award and I am honored to be a part of it. It’s nice to be recognized for these awards, but soccer is a team sport, and I know I wouldn’t be able to achieve any of this without my team.
TL: Tell us about the Olympic Development Program that you’re a part of.
Jessie: I’ve been involved in the Olympic Development Program since I was 13. I’ve been on the state team for several years, which involves training in Florida and then traveling to a camp in Alabama each summer to compete against other states. From this camp, you can be selected to the Region team. The Region team then trains you, and you have the opportunity to travel to represent your country. Last year I went to Germany and the Czech Republic to compete internationally. That was a great honor and learning experience. Traveling and meeting new people is such a great part of competitive sports.
[Editor’s Note: Jessie was invited to a national training camp in Oregon this past August. It is sponsored by the Elite Club National League (ECNL), Olympic Development Program (ODP), and Nike. About twenty-five girls from her age group were chosen from across the country.]
TL: With graduation fast approaching, what are your plans for the near future? You’ve committed to UNC, is that right?
Jessie: Yes, I am committed to UNC. It was a very difficult decision. I was fortunate to have some great options. It came down to FSU (with my sister), Stanford, and UNC. It’s hard to make a life decision when you’re 16, but I feel really good about it and am grateful to the college coaches who supported my decision and really wanted what was best for me. I’m excited to have another year of high school. I’ve always loved the schools I attended. I went to St. Paul from pre-k to eighth grade, and then George Jenkins. Being involved in sports has really made me passionate about my school pride. Some athletes are encouraged to finish high school early so they can start training at college early, but I would hate to miss my senior year. I’m planning on starting at UNC for summer session next year so I can start training and be ready for this huge step.
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TL: Who have been some of your biggest influences?
Jessie: My biggest influences are my parents and my sisters. My parents have always pushed me to try new things. When I was younger, I was a very timid girl who would never try anything new. Over the years my parents have pushed me to do many things that I thought I would not enjoy, but they knew I would end up loving it — which I did. Having sisters is such a blessing, but the sister bond is even more special to athletes. Being athletes, the three of us are all competitive. When we work out together, we all push each other.
St. Paul has also greatly influenced me. For ten years it has provided me with a place for my faith to grow. I believe this school has also molded me into the person I am, both on and off
the field.
TL: What has been some of the best advice you have received, and what advice would you give others regarding soccer and an athletic career?
Jessie: The best advice I have ever received is that if you want to be great at something, you have to do what most people do not want to do. I am reminded of this often. When it comes to practice, I never mind going. When it comes to doing something new, I need pushing. My advice to parents is to expose their children to many different sports and to keep things positive. I always appreciated that my parents were quiet when they watched my games, and I felt like they supported my passion, but it wasn’t about them. The most important thing, whether it’s soccer or music or anything, is to love what you are doing and do it with all of your heart.
TL: How have you influenced your children’s decisions towards the sports they play actively today?
Karyn: A parent’s role in what their child participates in is huge at a young age. I think that early in our girls’ lives, we really did not ask them what they wanted to do but just looked around the community to see what was available and what would keep them active. Our only rule was whatever we signed them up for, they needed to finish until the end of the season and then the next year was up to them. When sport seasons started to overlap and pressure started mounting about which tournament they would attend, we let them pick which sport they were most passionate about. Eventually all three chose to concentrate on soccer. This choice had nothing to do with either of our personal sport experiences, which really made their choice that much better. There was not a family reputation to live up to or any pressure to play at the college level. Jessie wants to play at the highest level possible. For me, it’s their decision to make.
TL: What involvement did the two of you play in your daughters’ athletic careers growing up and today?
Karyn: As far as their athletic careers, we have exposed them to all that was available and encouraged them to push themselves when we felt they might not have the wisdom to see where a door could open. It’s easy to say, “Okay” when a child says, “I don’t really think I want to…” But you have to think past their hesitation and know when it might just be insecurity. More often than not, our daughters have thanked us for pushing them in areas where they may not have gone on their own. It really is a delicate balance of helping your child push past the normal roadblocks but letting them feel in control. You have to go with your gut feeling and be there for them when needed but pull back when you see they can handle it.
Glenn: My soccer knowledge is limited, so I would say my contribution is to help them understand the mental aspect of sports, keeping them in the proper state of mind in both victory and defeat. Most of all, remind them they are participating for the joy of it.
TL: What advice would you give parents who are raising children in a highly serious athletic sport?
Karyn: The main advice I would give parents at any level is to encourage responsibility in whatever activity their child is involved in. Let them be in charge of packing their equipment,
knowing their schedule, and helping get out the door to the events. They should also never be too busy to help with chores around the house or to help prepare meals. The activity
should not remove the importance of church and family or make all meals “take out.” If we were really pinched for time it might mean eating a bowl of broccoli in the car on the way
to practice, and then it would be okay to grab a pizza to-go after practice. Or it might mean that we all sat down to a late meal at home, but we still had sit-down family meals at least a few times a week even if it was 10 o’clock at night. As far as advice for families with high-level athletes, give them the tools for success but ensure that it is their child’s passion and not
the parents’ passion. When a child is sad that practice is cancelled and is willing to pay for their own sports equipment, or asks for new cleats for Christmas, you know that it’s coming
from within. Don’t let them think that they are entitled to all of that expensive gear. It should be a gift or earned from chores. If they become complacent, the main reminder I offer is that, “Successful people do what unsuccessful people don’t want to do.” Yes, at times it is work.
Glenn: Get a second job; it’s going to get expensive. Seriously, I believe it has to be the child’s choice to participate in the sport and decide what their goals are. Help them define the steps needed to reach those goals, but most of all let them control their destiny. It’s supposed to be fun, and it can be for everyone.
TL: What are your main goals as a parent?
Karyn: My main goal as a parent is to raise hard-working children who care about others and want to give back to their community. Our girls have been blessed by many caring people in their lives who have helped them become who they are — teachers, pastors, coaches, friends, relatives. It takes many people to shape the lives of our children. We all have to help each other.
Glenn: To help my kids become well-rounded, decent human beings.