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Birmingham — For 32 years, Ernie Righetti watched his Birmingham Roeper High teams compete for state titles — and fall short.

Some of those teams were directly his when he served as basketball coach for the boys and girls.

The rest were indirectly his as the school's athletic director.

That was then ...

Righetti was on the sidelines last weekend when Roeper won its first state title — in Division 4 boys soccer.

He wasn't there to coach. He was there to support, just as he has every team — good and bad.

"I get choked up thinking about it," he said, pausing before his next comment.

"It was very important for the school not me," he said. "I was very happy for the kids."

Congratulations have poured in from around the country for the school that plays with a different set of rules.

For example, soccer coach Ed Sack never has cut a player in 17 years, he's never mercied (ahead by eight goals) an opponent.

And it's not like he hasn't had the chance — Roeper was in position to mercy an opponent 10 teams this season. But Sack pulled his starters for the sake of sportsmanship.

"He knows if he mercied somebody I would be all over him," Righetti said.

So, Righetti knows this state title was accomplished by sheer determination and desire.

Sack's team attacked opponents behind forwards Max Whipple (46 goals, 21 assists) and Simon Roennecke (40 goals, 36 assists). Whipple's 102 goals tied the state record, while Roennecke's 36 assists are a school record.

The back line is solid, too, with all-state goalkeeper Calvin Lind and second team all-state defender Michael Matthews.

"We were not the most talented team in the state, but I think we were the most explosive," Sack said. "A lot of coaches say defense wins championships. I disagree. If you don't put stress on a team's defense and get shots on goals, it doesn't matter how many passes you put together."

Said Roennecke: "Everyone on our team knows their roles and they have adapted to their roles and that helps us play well together."

And it worked.

Roeper, however, is not a school based on sports. It's known for academics.

John Marshall Jones, the lead character of the TV series "Smart Guy," composer Randall Woolf and Microsoft programmer Mark Zbikowski all graduated from Roeper. And its theater group puts on some of the finest productions in the area.

"We are the gifted school, but we are more than that," Sack said. "It gives everybody something to hang their hat on."

terry.foster@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/terryfoster971

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