Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera South girls soccer player Destiny Pursell warms up before a Stallions soccer game.
Special-needs student Destiny Pursell isn’t any different than her teammates. She can pass, she can shoot, but more importantly she can achieve.
“Her dream was to play high school soccer,” Madera South head coach Ramon Delgadillo said. “I told her she has to put in the work and she’ll get there.”
After moving to Clovis from Oakhurst, Pursell, 17, was unable to play high school sports so a move to Madera proved beneficial, but it also came with risks.
“I don’t think there was anything available for her to play,” her father, Mark Pursell, said. “She moved in with me last summer in Madera and she’s always had an interest in soccer.
“Being that she’s has special needs, I knew after intermediate school and junior high, it gets pretty competitive. So, I was very apprehensive to let her play, but this year they really opened to her, to let her come out and play Unified soccer at Madera South.”
Along with his duties as the girls varsity coach, Delgadillo became a part of a supplemental league for special-need students and coached Pursell in a Unified program. A conversation between the two at midseason foreshadowed a partnership down the road.
The Unified soccer league started in the fall and consisted of special-needs athletes along with Unified partners or general students. The game featured five players; three special-needs players and two Unified partners. The program was created by Marty Bitter, Madera Unified School District athletic director.
“They have Unified soccer and I was coaching for Madera South’s Unified team,” Delgadillo said. “She came up to me and started talking and said, ‘Thank you coach, I really enjoyed playing.’ Destiny said she always wanted to play soccer while she was in Clovis, but she never had the opportunity and now she’s playing.”
Not only did Pursell enjoy her time out there, she scored a handful of goals as well.
“She played and did really well,” her father said. “I think she got five goals playing there. The coach really fell in love with her and she worked hard, tried her best and did it every time she was out there.
“He assured me that he would take care of her and that she would be safe.”
Pursell then tried out for the girls’ soccer team with Delgadillo’s advice and made the team.
“I invited her to tryouts and I told her that in order to make the team, she has to earn it,” Delgadillo said. “The way she was going to earn it was to work hard. She really wants to accomplish something and she’s putting in the work for it. “
Although Pursell had experience playing soccer, the varsity team for Madera South was a big step. Delgadillo insisted Pursell get the same treatment as all the other players to help her grow as a player.
“We don’t treat her like she is any different than the other girls,” Delgadillo said. “We try to cheer her up and motivate her, but, like I said, she was just like everyone else on the team. There was no special treatment in order for her to develop and improve her soccer skills.”
With the Stallions’ season gearing up, her father said he is beyond proud to see his daughter play.
“For Madera South and their athletic department to go way out of their way to include her and to allow her to go out there and be around regular kids just brings a tear to your eye at times when you think about it and it’s really moving to see your daughter go out there,” he said. “Some of these girls play really hard and really aggressive, but she’s not afraid to get in there and mix it up with them. It’s a proud moment as a dad, definitely.”
When asked what her favorite part about playing soccer was, the answer probably wouldn’t surprise those that know her.
“Meeting new people,” Pursell said happily.