“She looked at me in the eighth grade and said she wanted to play soccer in college.”
Mark Allen is the father of seven children. The oldest, Keighton, is a three-time all-state goalkeeper and the 2010 Catch It Kansas Soccer Player of the Year. And four years ago when Keighton told her dad that she had dreams of collegiate play, he knew it was a reachable goal. He also knew it would take a serious commitment.
“He told me we were going to have to drive a long way for practice,” Keighton says. She responded: “Hey, that’s fine with me.”
And so, a long way they drove. One hundred ninety miles, to be exact. From their home in Wichita, Kan., to the KCFC practice facility in Kansas City. It was the beginning of Keighton’s sophomore year, and it was time to make a move toward her dreams.
Keighton joined the KCFC Heat U16 squad. It was the closest ECNL team to her and provided her the best opportunity to play against the top competition. From her first practice, she knew she was in the right place.
“When I got out there, I was out of shape, I wasn’t as good as the other girls, and I just wasn’t playing at the next level like they were,” she said. She remembers thinking, “these girls are fast, and they have good touch on the ball. That was the most challenging and the most intense practice I’ve ever had. This is where I want to be.”
So she told her dad that she wanted to keep coming back.
Three years later, they’ve done exactly that. The Allens travel three hours -- both ways -- to and from KCFC practices each week. During her first year, they never missed a practice. As a goalkeeper, Keighton knows that building a rapport with her teammates is important. She was never late and never left early. And dad was with her almost every time.
To get there, Keighton made special arrangements will school officials to leave early on practice days. She credits her teachers and principal at Bishop Carroll (Wichita, Kan.) for understanding the situation, and supporting her play.
Mark jokes that “they couldn’t say no.” Keighton is a National Honors Society student and her father says this kind of travel wouldn’t be possible without good grades. He added, “her high school has been very supportive of everything that she’s achieved.”
Keighton does homework in the car. She also takes naps. Most memorably, she says, she has built a bond with her father that most teenagers don’t have.
“I would never have been able to do this without my parents,” she says. “There have been weeks where I didn’t want to do it, but the fact that my dad was willing to take those six hours and drive me there and back -- that motivated me. If my dad can do it, then I can do it.”
Dad says he’ll miss those six hours when she goes off to college. “We’ve had so much fun together,” he says. “It was an amazing bonding experience. Sure there were days when we got tired of it, but it really was a lot of fun.”
Keighton is the oldest of seven and a number of her younger siblings are athletes as well. Her mother, Shea, holds down the fort while Mark and Keighton make the trip up I-35. It’s taken a commitment from all of them, says Mark, to make things work.
“The whole family stepped up,” he says. It simply wouldn’t be possible without everyone pitching in.
And now, it’s all paid off. On Feb. 1, Keighton signed her letter of intent to play for Texas-El Paso. It’s what she’s wanted since eighth grade.
“It’s what I had been working towards for so long,” she says. “It’s a dream come true.”
Now, all seven of the kids wear UTEP shirts.