What does it mean to be a Bleach Boy?


Maddie Alsterline

Junior Cole Sullivan looks to make a play during open field practice in October.

After tryouts on October 31, the start of November marks the Archie Williams’ Boys Varsity soccer team annual hair-bleaching. A tradition of now 30 years, bleaching has become a call sign of a team that is among the top in the county. With strong brotherhood and camaraderie, the Bleach Boys are a close-knit family on and off the pitch.

The Falcons constantly find themselves with talent soaring to the next level. Among that talent was Class of 2022 alum, and last year’s Bleach Boys’ captain, Zach Lillington. Lillington is one of the few who reached Division One and plays left wing at UC Davis.

Senior Jaden Kughn and Junior Lochlan Mclean battle for possession. (Maddie Alsterline)

“My life was great as an Archie soccer player. Getting to have new friends each year was great. And having the feeling each day at school that I would have practice or a game was great,” Lillington said. 

Becoming a Bleach Boy is no easy feat. A two-month season of hard work each day, especially after having several hours of school, took a toll on last year’s athletes. 

“Physically it drained me. We had at least two games a week and practiced every day that we didn’t have a game. But it was great to get me fit and ready for games,” Lillington said.

Although Lillington was one of the team’s workhorses, he was not alone. Former center back Luke Clark, who also graduated from Archie Williams in 2022 and is a freshman at the University of Michigan, also was pushed by the soccer regime. Although the physical grind was a challenge in itself, the mental game was an even bigger obstacle. 

“There would be anywhere from one to three games a week and practice would be after school every day there wasn’t a game. I would think and stress about future games days in advance. During lunch, in class, and at practice, all I could think about would be the game,” Clark said. “After practice and games during the week, I would usually only have time to do homework and go to bed. It was definitely a grind but that wasn’t to say that it wasn’t fun.”

Freshman Issac Terry steps up to defend junior Cole Sullivan. (Maddie Alsterline)

The teammates bonded through their hard work and commitment put into the sport. Becoming a Bleach Boy signified to peers their involvement in Archie Williams’ elite soccer program, and to each other it signified brotherhood.

“It changed my life socially because with the [bleached] hair, everyone knew who I was and who I played for, which was great since I was able to hold the team’s high expectations while being out,” said Zach.

Coach Rene Ayala has been with the program for 20 years, starting as the boy’s Junior Varsity coach in 2002 and later named the Varsity coach in 2006. The team has been bleaching their hair since before Ayala became head coach. 

“The boys had been bleaching to my knowledge since like sometime in the 90s. So when people always ask me, how did it start? To be honest with you, I don’t know,” Ayala said.

Each year that Ayala coaches, he sees the long-standing tradition influence the incoming generations. He has watched connections grow between teammates and coaches due to the program’s culture and takes pride in his team. 

“For me, the bleach stands for integrity. It stands for brotherhood. It stands for, you know, doing the right thing,” Ayala said. “And I think that if you see bleached hair in the halls or in the classroom, I think it carries an expectation with it. So that’s how I have embraced the whole bleach culture.”

Crowned MCAL champions last season, the Bleach Boys had talent all over their roster with two of their players going to play Division I soccer. MCAL MVP Owen Benson earned a soccer scholarship to Saint Mary’s while First Team MCAL player Zach Lillington did the same at UC Davis. Yet Ayala chooses to look ahead at the future, as the development of the program is crucial to have more successful Bleach Boy seasons.

Senior Barret Acker dribbles the ball up field. (Maddie Alsterline)

“You know, everybody always talks about wins and losses as a measure of success. We don’t do that here. We play to try and build our program,” Ayala said. “Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important. But if you’re going to base the success of your season based on wins and losses, and some years you’re going to come up short, because you can’t win every year, especially in this league. MCAL is so competitive.”

Ayala coaches other club teams as well as Archie Williams and instills the same values and goals in each; respect as well as the ability to grow from learning, lessons that he learned from playing soccer in high school and college. 

“So for us ever since year one, our goal has been to help the process of young boys becoming men of integrity, who respect themselves, respect everyone around them,” said Ayala. “And we define success as developing the ability to love other people and to allow people to love you.”

Ayala will continue to apply these philosophies in this upcoming varsity soccer season, a chance for fresh faces to earn their spot in the Bleach Boys brotherhood.

“I think it brings guys together like they’re doing something together. They’re a part of something bigger than themselves,” Ayala said.