MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Frances Silva’s high school days were drawing to a close in the summer of 2010. The budding sports reporter, who had accepted a soccer scholarship at West Virginia University, contemplated possible topics for her final media class assignment before graduation.
The Overland Park, Kan. native searched for a powerful narrative that she could showcase. Silva settled on telling the story of Haley Yearout, an acquaintance from the local youth soccer scene that had tragically lost her mother in a car accident. Silva and two classmates produced a 4-minute video feature that earned an honorable mention from the National Scholastic Press Association.
“My parents weren’t used to me getting academic awards,” said Silva, who won a state championship with Blue Valley North High School in 2007 and holds school records for the most goals scored in a game and in a season. “It wasn’t something tied to my athletic ability, so it was pretty cool.”
Silva is continuing to make headlines on and off the field. The sprightly forward was named Disney Soccer/NSCAA National Player of the Week on Sept. 26 after scoring game-winning goals for West Virginia against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State in Big 12 Conference play. Her time away from soccer is largely spent working toward a broadcast journalism major from WVU’s P.I. Reed School of Journalism.
“I probably watch SportsCenter and ESPN more than any other female in the world,” said Silva in an interview at the WVU women’s soccer practice facility in Morgantown, W.Va. “My parents knew I had a good knowledge of sports and they thought it would be a good fit for me.”
A job-shadowing project in eighth grade gave Silva a taste of the newsroom at Kansas City’s Metro Sports television network and showed how she could harness her knowledge of soccer, football and college basketball into a career. Blue Valley’s school district runs one of the nation’s most prestigious high school news stations, and Silva served as a reporter, editor and producer from her sophomore to senior years. Those credits allowed her to enter WVU’s journalism school in her freshman year, where she quickly encountered the problems of finding news in a small town.
“A lot of stories have been done more than once, especially if you want to do sports,” Silva said. “Every year the football team is doing this, this team’s doing that. You have to get more creative.”
For Silva, this recently involved taking a different approach to covering The Mountaineer, West Virginia University’s buckskin-clad, coonskin capped mascot. Current incumbent Jonathan Kimble wed Christine Zackrison in August, offering a rare opportunity to look at the life of the Mountaineer’s spouse.
The West Virginia women’s soccer team has been in excellent form this season, winning five and tying one of its first six Big 12 games to top the conference. Silva leads the team in goals scored with 10 in 16 games overall. A road trip on Oct. 5 brought the Mountaineers to Lawrence, Kan., a short drive west of Silva’s family home, to face the Kansas Jayhawks. Silva badgered her teammates for their player passes so that 22 of her friends and relatives could attend, while another familiar face got a closer view of Silva’s homecoming: Jayhawks’ sophomore defender Haley Yearout.
“It’s funny,” Silva said. “Her teammates were telling her to go hard even though it’s her friend. On the field you try not to think about it, but after the game I went to speak to her and say ‘Hi’ to her family.”
Sunil Gulati, the president of the United States Soccer Federation, has talked recently about plans for reviving a professional women’s league in the U.S. as early as 2013. France, Germany and Sweden have led the way in establishing women’s leagues in Europe, and Silva said she is open to moving abroad in the future should an opportunity to keep playing soccer arise.
“There’s no question that Frances can extend her playing career after college,” West Virginia’s head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown told The Soccer Observer. “She’s such a dynamic player. If we don’t get our league back here, I strongly believe she’ll find her place on a team overseas.”
Silva remains eligible for one more year of college soccer. She intends to study for a master’s degree in sports management when her journalism course concludes next spring. That buys Silva a little time to decide where her playing career could take her.
“I understand that there’s financial issues and that you can only live off minimum wages or however much they are making for so long,” Silva said.
“It’s something that I’ll do until I can’t do it any longer, for whatever reason.”
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