RIVERDALE – José Argueta lay motionless after being slammed to the ground following a hard challenge during the Bladensburg boys’ soccer team’s 2-1 loss at Parkdale on Sept. 22.
As Assistant Coach Craig Tupper yelled at one of the referees, Bladensburg Head Coach Juliana Ocampos-Barry rushed onto the field to check on her injured striker.
She helped Argueta up and walked him toward the sidelines. After a final check, Ocampos-Barry allowed him back onto the field before returning to a methodical, quiet stance and crossing her arms.
Her demeanor on the field was a request from her father, Ovidio Ocampos, a former soccer player for Paraguayan club Guaraní and a retired referee.
“He’s always said, ‘please, don’t yell at the referees. They are doing the best that they can,’” Ocampos-Barry said. “I only do it when it’s unfair and just know that if my dad came out to the game, I want him to be proud of what I’m doing. So I don’t want to be going after the ref because I saw it happen to him.”
Coaching was not the path the former Bowie High School soccer star had planned after the end of her college career at Union University. However, after creating an after-school soccer program at William Wirt Middle School, she began an unexpected coaching career which lead to the rebuilding of the Mustangs’ varsity program.
She may not be the first woman in the county’s history to coach boys’ soccer, but she is certainly the outlier today. The third-year coach has taken advantage of her steady relationship with her players, creating a roster that is in pole position to get a first-round bye in the state playoffs.
In today’s sports landscape, it is common to see men coach women. In soccer, the trend is magnified as only one woman currently manages in the 10-team league. Current U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Jill Ellis is only the fourth woman who has been in charge in the program’s 32-year history.
In men’s sports, however, women have slowly gained ground in positions of power. From becoming football referees to coaching preseason professional basketball, women are no longer excluded from of male-dominated leagues.
The county has several women in coaching roles in individual athletics, but only Ocampos-Barry and Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. lacrosse coach Jeanine Cummings lead boys’ programs, according to the county’s Interscholastic Athletics Coordinating Supervisor Earl Hawkins. Ocampos-Barry is also the county’s first woman boys’ soccer coach since the early 1990s (also hired by Bladensburg), according to the county’s boys soccer representative George Kallas.
As a teacher at William Wirt, Ocampos-Barry established a pickup soccer program for all students after athletics were removed from middle schools during the 2012-2013 school year.
Once sports returned, the school obliged her request to coach the boys’ team.
“It just felt natural to me,” Ocampos-Barry said. “I knew kids in my program that were going to try out for the team so I asked even though I didn’t have it planned out in mind. I was really happy with the opportunity to coach the boys.”
Soon after two successful seasons with the middle school and an undefeated season coaching the Parkdale boys’ junior varsity team in 2014, she was hired to take over the Bladensburg varsity team at the start of the 2015-2016 year.
“She’s a fair coach,” Argueta said. “She puts you in positions where you will succeed. She’s always punctual and observant in training, looking for ways to help improve your skills. If you miss practice, she will give another person who shows up on time a shot to start. Everyone does end up playing in the game, but it’s good that everyone is accounted for.”
The head coaching role has its downside, especially dealing with adults around the game. Despite meeting them before kickoff, referees rarely defer to Ocampos-Barry for substitution calls, instead going to Assistant Coach Tupper. Male parents cat-call her at away matches, while club coaches attempt to undermine her authority to players.
“Sometimes I need to explain three or four times that I am the boys’ coach and not the girls' coach because that is what is assumed,” Ocampos-Barry said.
She received support from the Bladensburg community, including new Athletic Director Michael Silverman. Now, as a full-time staff member at the high school, she is able to commit more time to working together with her students while still being able to communicate with Spanish-speaking parents effectively.
“It is pretty much the same (as having a male coach),” senior midfielder Rodrigo Moreno said. “She is our school teacher too so we can talk to her a lot compared to other coaches in the past because they are usually not available at the school. We are really close to her.”
With Ocampos-Barry at the helm, the Mustangs are on their way to reclaiming their status as one of the county’s best teams. After two seasons of below .500 records and first-round eliminations in the state playoffs, Bladensburg currently sits in one of the top four spots in the standings with a 6-2-1 record (as of Oct. 9) with two games remaining.
“We’ve gotten better, but it is not where we need to be,” Ocampos-Barry said. “We push and want to be successful all the way, but we need to continue turning things around to be successful.”