František Pavlovský is an urban myth unfolding in real time.
The Parsons Vikings star midfielder has propelled the first-year program to expectations that would have been laughable a few months ago.
How did the foreign exchange student from the Czech Republic hit the fast-forward button for Parsons soccer?
It started last winter when Pavlovský, now 16 years old, applied to study abroad in the United States from the Czech Republic.
“Right before Christmas, I filled out my application and signed the papers,” Pavlovský said. “In the middle of January, I put my application on the main website where a host can choose the foreign exchange student.”
Pavlovský’s hails from Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic. The country is home to 11 million citizens yet takes up less land mass than Kansas.
“You can definitely see the countryside here,” Pavlovský said.
Since he was six years old, Pavlovský has played for FK Dukla Praha, a soccer club in Prague. In Europe, sports are often played in clubs rather than connected to schools.
Pavlovský wanted the opportunity to play in his semester long stay in America.
“It would be hard to leave soccer,” Pavlovský said. “I’m so grateful for the opportunity to play soccer while I’m here. It’s what I was hoping for.”
Pavlovský’s host ended up being Eric Swanson, the principal of Parsons High School. Swanson’s son, Paxton, intended to play soccer for the inaugural season.
When Swanson was perusing Pavlovský’s information online, he noticed the passion he had for soccer.
He also recognized that a lifelong player from Europe may experience a gulf between himself and a community just instituting the sport into the high school.
“What we talked about in a Zoom meeting was that this would be a first-year program,” Swanson said. “I saw in his bio that he coached an 11-year-old team. I told him that his 11-year-olds in the Czech would have a higher skillset than our kids would have starting out.”
That wasn’t a concern for Pavlovský.
“I knew that since Eric picked me up, he told me about the possibility to play soccer here,” Pavlovský said. “I know soccer is not as common a sport in America. But when I got the news that there would be soccer where I was going, I was really enthusiastic about it.”
That enthusiasm carried right into the start of the season.
“His first day of practice,” Parsons head coach Caleb Reid said, “I showed up early and he was already there. I had his gear pulled so I handed it to him. Right there, he stripped down and started changing.”
That first practice left no doubt just how rare of a breed the Vikings had inherited.
“We got the balls out, but he didn’t really do much until we had a line of cones set up,” Reid said. “He was towards the back. When he got his time to shine, he was out of there like a bullet. From that second on, I knew he was far beyond anything we’ve got as far as talent, knowledge and experience.”
Pavlovský, nicknamed “Fanda” amongst his teammates and coaches, was cognizant that the first-year Parsons players had ground to make up. He also knew that his background could help make up that difference.
“In my club back home, we’ve all gone through the academy our whole lives,” Pavlovský said. “That’s a lot of chemistry. We play the whole year, not just a semester. So when I came here, I wanted to advertise soccer as much as I could. I came here to teach people as much as I can teach. It didn’t matter to me how good we were going to be.”
When Parsons played its first match against reigning SEK League champion Independence, the result was eye-opening. While the Vikings lost predictably, the 2-0 score was much closer than anybody predicted.
After Parsons lost its first three matches, the Vikings rattled off three straight wins and found themselves sitting at .500 midway through the year.
“I knew that this would happen,” Pavlovský said. “The thoughts of other people that we weren’t expected to be good drive me. At the first game, I knew Independence didn’t expect us to be good. It was the first match in history for us. That gave me energy.”
Two of those three wins came against Columbus and Riverton — two of Parsons’ three potential regional opponents.
Parsons’ regional group also includes Coffeyville, a team the Vikings aren’t scheduled to see in the regular season. But with wins notched over Columbus and Riverton, it’s feasible to envision the Vikings making the state tournament in just its first year of existence.
“I didn’t know if we’d win a game,” Swanson said. “I didn’t know the impact that one kid could have on a program. The skillset he has, even against good teams, it’s obvious. His footwork is incredible.”
Through nine matches, Pavlovský has 11 goals but has shifted to the role of facilitator.
“Any good coach wants their best player on the ball,” Reid said. “There’s times we let him off the chain. But he’s got a different side. There’s games where he intentionally decides to not score. He knows full well that the program will live on, so he wants the opportunities for others.”
A midfielder on the paper, Pavlovský is often called upon to reinforce the backline then push the pace of the attack.
“In our system,” Reid said. “He bounces back and forth. He’s got skills everywhere. He’s become a sweeper. He’ll sweep up on defense then push forward on offense and set up nice angles of attack.”
As quickly as Pavlovský has made an impact on Parsons, it’ll be just as fleeting. Pavlovský is scheduled to return to the Czech Republic in January.
For now, though, Pavlovský’s family is happy to keep him in Parsons.
The COVID-19 pandemic has cast doubt and uncertainty into every aspect of life worldwide. In Kansas, fall sports were threatened before being allowed to proceed by the Kansas State High School Activities Association. Parsons — knock on wood — has largely been able to proceed without interruption so far this fall.
Back in the Czech Republic, the country is currently Europe’s epicenter for the virus. According to The Guardian, the nation is on the verge of another lockdown after experiencing over 8,000 cases last Friday. That’s more per capita than any other European country.
“COVID was a tough part of the decision to come here,” Pavlovský said. “But Parsons is a much safer place to be. Back in the Czech Republic, the situation is horrible there. We’re the worst country in Europe right now. So my parents are happy that I’m here.”
Parsons soccer, in its very first season, has legitimate aspirations of a state tournament berth.
The effects of the early success will likely affirm the school’s trajectory in the sport.
“We talked about him having an impact,” Swanson said. “When we bring exchange students in, we want to show them American life and American sports. But I think he has a chance to have an impact on our school that’s far greater than the impact we can have on him. You can already see that with the technical skills our kids have developed.”
Pavlovský hopes to take soccer as far as the sport will let him in life. But for the rest of his life, he can look back on a lasting legacy that he’ll leave behind in Parsons — a legacy that sparked a new team to standards that seemed to be years down the road.
“It’s an awesome thing for me,” Pavlovský said. “It’s why I do all this hard work. In the future, I want to be successful. I’m definitely going to look back to Parsons. If I get the opportunity to do something for Parsons now to pay them back what they’ve given me, I’ll do that.”