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Shrewsbury’s Ethan Melia following father’s footsteps on the pitch

Ethan Melia

Ethan Melia

The state championship was elusive for Glenn Melia, one of the more talented soccer players to ever go through St. John’s High in Shrewsbury, before graduating in 1984.

“He was definitely a really, really good player,” said Mike Elster, who was cocaptain of the Pioneers the year after Melia left. “But I tease him; he never got what I got.”

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St. John’s won its first state title in 1985.

Melia attended the Air Force Academy, got married, and he and his wife, Jonna, had three kids. After becoming a pilot, Melia flew all over, first with the Air Force and later for United Airlines.

Sometimes he was around for his children. Sometimes he wasn’t. But Ethan Melia, the couple’s middle child, thinks Glenn was always there, his spirit attached to the soccer ball that Ethan has carried everywhere: first, in Arizona, where he was born and lived until age 3, then two years in Arkansas, then two years in Colorado, and eventually in Massachusetts, where Ethan settled in Sutton and Shrewsbury, splitting time between his parents’ homes.

New schools, new friends, new experiences. And always soccer.

“It’s a thing I can do to get my mind off everything else,” said Ethan Melia, now 16. “It’s a stress reliever, a place I can go to just hang out with my close friends.

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“It’s not played different in different parts of the country; it just has different people playing. And the experiences are different because of the people.”

When it came time for high school, Melia made a choice. His older brother, Haydn, was playing at Sutton High, about to win back-to-back state championships in 2011 and last year. With his dad living in Sutton and mom in Shrewsbury, Ethan could have gone to either school.

He chose Shrewsbury High, the archrival of his dad’s alma mater.

Ethan has no bigger influence in his athletic career than his father. And he joined the enemy.

“I felt like I knew I wanted to get out and try something new,” Ethan said, heading into his junior year at Shrewsbury. “I liked it. I was making my own name for myself. I wasn’t known as Haydn’s little brother anymore. It made me feel good.”

The rivalry between the St. John’s Pioneers and the Colonials is every bit as heated as the rumors suggested it would be, Ethan said. But Glenn, who coached the women’s team at Assumption College for four seasons before returning to work as a pilot at United this year, has put aside his former colors for new ones.

“When Shrewsbury plays St John’s, I just want a good game,” Glenn said. “But the most important thing has nothing to do with me. It’s about the kids. Ethan getting in the car in a good mood is far better than me feeling good about a school I went to years ago.

“I give St. John’s all the credit for getting me where I got to, but I always have room in my heart for my kids. It’s really not that bad.”

The time the two get to spend together is cherished by both. Glenn had to take a six-day trip flying for United last week and missed the Bay State Games, when Ethan scored a pair of goals and helped lead Central to the gold medal game, a 2-1 loss to Coastal. Work often interferes with time Glenn would like to spend with all of his kids, he said, but he makes the time count.

“We kick the ball around as much as we can,” Glenn said. “Always trying to get him work on his right foot. He has a good left and a real good right, he just doesn’t believe it yet.”

Asked which foot is his primary shooting foot, Ethan said both.

“I would always go to my left, he would stop me, put the ball on my other foot,” Ethan said. “I didn’t mind it. I liked how he was very supportive and wanted me to get better. I liked it a lot.”

Coaches have noticed his skill with both feet, his quickness, and his aggression. And even though Glenn cannot watch all his games, the relationship between the two of them has been a driving force.

“Having a supportive father can do positive things in the child’s life,” said Ed Kelly, the longtime men’s coach at Boston College who coaches Ethan with the New England Football Club. “My father never saw me play until I played for the [New York] Cosmos in New Jersey. My youth games he was always working, busy or whatever.

“It was my thing. That’s an important factor, that an artist can put on the canvas what he sees or partly what the dad sees. That can be a conflict or a positive thing.”

When Kelly first met Ethan, he made a decision that did not thrill the player.

Ethan is a goal scorer. He wants to put the ball in the back of the net every time he touches it.

“He’s a very vertical player,” Elster, who coached the Central squad in the Bay State Games, said of the 6-foot, 165-pound Melia.

But Kelly saw the aggressive nature of play and saw a defender. He moved him to left fullback for New England FC.

“He wasn’t happy with that,” Kelly said. “He wasn’t happy about that for a while. But he started to understand what was required and he made improvements.

“He’s a fast learner once you get through that personality. He’s a very fast learner. You can see things changing with these particular guys that are very strong personalities. You have to be passionate to succeed, and he has a lot of passion.”

Kelly and Glenn Melia never spoke about the move. With his own coaching experience, Glenn understands that the best parents are the quiet parents. He knows his son wants to score goals. But development is the priority, and he supported the coach.

“It wasn’t a one-car-ride talk,” Glenn said of his conversations with Ethan.

“It took a good couple of weeks for him to really latch onto it. It was a little bit of growing pains with that. But I told Ethan at this stage of the game it will do him a better service to learn different positions.”

Kelly thinks Ethan can play Division 1 soccer in college.

Melia wants to do it at Air Force. Just like his dad.

Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at jasonmastro- donato@yahoo.com.

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