By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Staff Writer Alyns Polynice was completely new to the Oakcrest High boys soccer team this fall. Completely new to Oakcrest High School, too, as a senior. The Atlantic City High transfer had to get to know a whole new team of players, new coaches, new teachers in school, new friends, new hallways to walk through. But that was no big deal for Polynice. Six years ago, at the tender age of just 11 years old, he had to get to know a whole new country and language. Polynice came to America from Haiti with his family and they settled in Atlantic City before moving to Mays Landing prior to this school year. The only English that Polynice knew when he arrived was what he could pick up from watching television in Haiti. Some players may have been disappointed in Oakcrest’s 8-11 record, but when you come from a country where nearly 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, wins and losses on the soccer pitch become much less important than simply having the opportunity to go out there and compete at the varsity level with friends and coaches who care about you and your success — not only as a player, but as a person as well. Polynice’s seemingly endless amount of positive energy had a huge impact on the Falcons, a team that had some seniors but was mostly made up of underclassmen. Polynice’s attitude and leadership — along with that of star senior striker Jack O’Brien — helped guide the Falcons through a tough five-game losing streak at the end of September that threatened to ruin Oakcrest’s season. But the team pulled through that and won six of its last 10 games, earning a berth in the South Jersey Group 2 state playoffs. Polynice had only three goals and five assists, but he did a lot of work in the midfield to set up O’Brien, who was one of South Jersey’s leading scorers with 25 goals. “I came Into the season not even knowing who he was. We turned out to be a pretty good duo though. He gave me a lot of assists, a lot of good passes, and he played some good defense, too. So it was really nice playing alongside him. My first impression was this kid was really skillful and he tries really hard. So that’s the perfect teammate to me,” O’Brien said. “It definitely took a couple of games before we started to get to know each other. I would say after about the third game, we really knew each other a lot better and started connecting a lot more. He’s a very unselfish player, which is the thing I really like about him. He definitely could have scored a lot more, but he set up me and a couple other kids for a bunch of goals. “The thing I like the most about him was he just never gave up, especially in games where we were down.” Coming from a country where he had very little, Polynice has been able to appreciate opportunities throughout his career at Atlantic City and Oakcrest. He thrived with every chance to go out there and compete, and do something he loves every afternoon during the fall. “(Coming to America) was amazing. I was so excited to get to a new country, a new environment. It was amazing. It was not a bad transition from Haiti to here because I have my family here and they help me every single day,” Polynice said. “(Transferring as a senior) was weird, to be honest, because you want to start getting ready for the season as early as possible, but I didn’t know anybody, I just showed up one day. It was pretty hard because it’s not only about soccer. You’re a student first and you’ve got new friends, new teachers, a whole new school — everything. So it was pretty hard for the first few months. But I stuck with it and I think it’s been pretty good ever since.” Polynice said what made his transition to Oakcrest a little easier was that so much of the team was new, too, since about half the varsity roster was made up of freshmen. “It was hard but I was not the only new guy on the team. There were a lot of freshmen and everybody was getting to know each other as a new team, new faces. So it was it was tough for everybody, but you’re taking the same bus to the games and you’re on the same training field every day, everybody’s doing the same drills. Everybody was new but I enjoyed it because it was a new challenge for me, and I accepted that challenge,” he said. “It was fun. We all played for each other and we joked around a lot. We were there for the same thing; this team never gave up and we had to the same attitude of trying to figure everything out. Early on, we were playing with a lot of new faces and not everybody knew how this guy wants to play, or what’s best for that guy. Obviously, that first month was tough, but once we figured out what this team was going to be like, we were like, ‘OK, we know how to win now.’” “He actually was a pleasant surprise. We were excited at the beginning of the season and then we ended up losing a couple kids we didn’t know we were going to lose and he had a great year for us and did a lot of positive things. He was a great leader. I was actually really surprised at how well he helped our younger kids adapt. He processed things a lot quicker than we thought. I can’t say enough good things about the kid, he really stepped up for us when we needed him,” said Falcons head coach Scott Meile. “In the preseason we saw he was extremely skilled striking the ball. We were kind of blow away — anything within 18 to 25 yards he would put on frame and make it really difficult for the goalies, but what we didn’t realize is that he was much more of a playmaker and a guy who can set people up. We saw that once we got to the games. He was someone who was always looking to get others involved and a really good teammate. He did an exceptional job of setting people up. Sometimes you don’t get an assist, but he would help put Jack in situations where he could make a play on the ball.” The team really began to thrive when Meile put both O’Brien and Polynice up top as strikers. They were valuable in an inexperienced midfield, but eventually Meile decided to push all his chips to the center of the table and see what these two could do as an offensive threat. “Making sure Alyns and Jack were together up top kind of unlocked us at the midway point of the season,” Meile said. “Having him and Jack work together with our other midfielders made us a little bit more dynamic offensively, especially in the second half of the season.” Polynice had high praise for O’Brien, who not only was one of South Jersey’s best scorers, but one of the best teammates as well. “He’s competitive, but ever since I came to this school he’s been helping me,” Polynice said. “Anytime I have a problem at school he’s always telling me, ‘if you need help, I’m always here.’ He was our captain and was so competitive and could play multiple positions. We all had the same focus of let’s win; let’s have that hunger to win. And for me, Jack was amazing. He’s what you want a teammate to be.” Now that the season is over, Polynice has turned his attention to what’s next. He says he’d like to continue to play soccer in college if the opportunity arises, and he also wants to study business and marketing. “He understands that playing soccer is a great opportunity for him. I’m sure he wants to play at the college level, and he really seemed to enjoy the chance he was getting to be out there with the guys. We’re encouraging him to keep playing and we’re going to explore some opportunities,” Meile said. “It’s just a matter of him gaining that confidence, not only on the field but in the classroom as well. He does well in his classes and I think he’s realizing the bigger picture. If you get a chance to keep playing and get an education, that’s what we’re trying to do for him.” “I want to have a good life. I’m going to keep going with what I am doing at the moment. I’m going to keep following my academic career,” Polynice said. “It’s like a stage of life, playing high school soccer, which is really fun. I’ll probably miss it but there’s always going to be a new challenge. I’m looking at colleges to continue my academic career and hopefully soccer. My family, we’re going to see what’s best for us and what’s best for me. Right now I’m thinking about going into business or marketing, stuff like that. I just want to get the best out of myself and make sure that I’m making a good life for myself in the future.” No matter what road Polynice decides to go down, he’ll take with him much more confidence as well as the pride he has in his heritage. Haiti sometimes gets a bad rap, he says, but he knows the true Haitian spirit of humble pride will guide him on his journey. “I’m grateful that I’ve lived a good life so far. I’m 17 years old and I know I can accomplish a lot more. I’m grateful because, of all the kids who come from where I come from, maybe one out of 10 gets to where I am today. It’s something that God has given me and I’m grateful to him and my family every single day. It won’t be easy to reach the goals I want to reach, but I’ll get there someday,” he said. “Haitian people are really chill and really humble. I left there when I was very young, but even when I came to America, my family and friends, the people I knew, there was always a pride in being Haitian. Even though there’s a lot of negative things said about Haiti — it could be 99 percent negative, but with that one percent of positivity, you’re going to take that and be proud. The thing about Haitian people, they all smile and family is the most important thing, the people close to you. The Haitian people are humble and they are going to be there for you. They are proud of their heritage and their country.” Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
Sully, as he’s known throughout South Jersey, began his newspaper career in 1995 and has worked for some of New Jersey’s top papers, including The Asbury Park Press and Press of Atlantic City, as a writer and editor. He’s earned several New Jersey Press Association awards and continues to produce high quality reporting, writing and photography.
A native of Ocean County, Sully played high school baseball at Lacey Township High and college baseball at Pfeiffer University in North Carolina. After a successful 15-year career in the newspaper business, Sully launched Glory Days Magazine in 2013 and for nearly a decade has been bringing fans outstanding and insightful coverage of high school sports throughout South Jersey.