Sports Person of the Week
Al-Hawari Leading the Easties as a Sweeper
Ethar Al-Hawari enters his senior year with the East Haven boys’ soccer team as the Yellowjackets’ starting sweeper. (Photo courtesy of Ethar Al-Hawari)
After spending most of his career playing either forward or midfielder, Ethar Al-Hawari got a chance to test his skills as a defender with the East Haven boys’ soccer team. Following a brief tryout, Ethar is switching to defense on a full-time basis and will be the Yellowjackets’ starting varsity sweeper this fall.
Ethar was introduced to soccer by his father Mahmoud and his brother Rawad at the age of four. Ethar often watched the two of them practice together and wanted join in on the fun. After training with his dad and playing with his brother, Ethar decided that soccer was the sport for him.
“My dad started it with my brother. When I’d watch them, I wanted to join, too. I got attached to it,” says Ethar. “My dad trained me the way he used to play. I used to play with my brother in the backyard and on the fields by us. They taught me all that they could.”
Ethar started by playing soccer in West Haven’s recreational league. Ethar continued playing there until middle school, when he joined the town’s travel team. Ethar and his family moved to East Haven in 2013 and, one he reached high school, he decided that he wanted to compete for the Yellowjackets.
Ethar spent most of his freshman season at the JV level, while also seeing some occasional varsity time. After watching his first varsity game, Ethar knew that was where he wanted to be and realized that he was going to have to work hard to make it there.
“It was more than I expected. When I went to the first boys’ game, I watched it and said, ‘I can help out a little.’ When I first stepped on that field, it was a totally different vibe,” Ethar says. “I had taken it for granted. I knew I had to work hard if I wanted to be a good player. I just had to show them.”
Ethar split time between the two teams again as a sophomore, earning his first varsity letter that year. When the season was finished, Ethar spent more time playing soccer with his friends to get prepared for his junior campaign.
Ethar became a full-time varsity starter for the Yellowjackets as a junior. Ethar primarily played on the attack or in the midfield, but when one of his teammates got injured, he moved over to defense in a late-season matchup against Branford.
Head Coach Mike Papantonio plans to keep Ethar on defense as East Haven’s starting sweeper this fall. It will be a change for Ethar, but he is willing to play wherever his coaches feel he fits best in order to help the Easties succeed.
“There’s many positions in soccer. When you’re young, you try to find out what your position is. It’s important to be versatile,” says Ethar. “If someone gets injured, somebody else has to step up and take that position. Coach saw the potential in me last year. He’s going to nurture me into a really good defensive player.”
Coach Papantonio is expecting Ethar to be a focal point of the Yellowjackets’ defense this season. Between Ethar’s athleticism and his vocal leadership, Papantonio feels that the senior is the perfect person to play the sweeper position.
“Ethar is a pure athlete. Being a vocal leader, he will be the anchor on defense, playing sweeper for us. He has great field vision, awareness, and is able to put his teammates in positions to be successful,” Papantonio says. “With his sprinter speed, he is able to be a safety net for us, cleaning up through balls and home run passes over the top. He will be difficult for opponents to get around.”
During his freshman season, Ethar looked up to East Haven’s seniors and followed their lead. Ethar knew that they had more experience than him and that it was wise to take their advice.
Now, as Ethar enters his senior year, the roles are reversed. Ethar is looking forward to helping the Yellowjackets’ younger athletes grow, just like the seniors did for him when he first joined the program.
“I was inexperienced when I was an underclassman. I didn’t know how to play high school soccer,” says Ethar. “The underclassmen might need some help some time. They might need a sense of direction, and that’s OK. Me playing sweeper, I can see the whole field. I can help them out and direct them to the position they need to be in.”
In addition to soccer, Ethar is also a member of East Haven’s track and field program. He competed for both the indoor and outdoor teams during his junior year. Ethar wanted to get into the best shape possible for his final soccer season with the Yellowjackets and found that track provided a great avenue to do that.
With years of experience under his belt, Ethar understands how difficult the sport of soccer is and commends anyone who plays it. As he puts on his East Haven uniform for one last ride, Ethar is ready to give everything that he has to help the Yellowjackets have a solid season.
“Being a soccer player takes a lot of time and responsibility. It’s not an easy sport. It requires a lot of time and a lot of practice. It’s such a hard sport to play,” Ethar says. “But it’s my last season. I’ll be the hardest working player on the field. I promise you that.”