Average Height, Big Heart

It was Alex Shackley’s senior year at Palo Verde High School in Las Vegas when Justin Mayorga, a former high school teammate, lost his sister Jessica at the age of 22 – no cause of death was ever found.

“I look back at that day and I remember every single second of it,” Alex says, who played center mid-field for the Palo Verde soccer team.

Jessica’s funeral service was the morning of Palo Verde’s regular season match against the Cimarron-Memorial High School. Alex remembers watching Justin walking with the coffin that contained his sister and it being a painful and tough sight to see.

After the funeral was over, the soccer match took place in the afternoon. The sidewalk and grass on the side of the field began filling up with people. As they settled in, in about the 10th minute Cimarron-Memorial scored the first goal of the match until Alex responded with the equalizing goal in roughly the 15th minute. He immediately ran over to the sideline and pointed to a black armband everyone wore in remembrance of Jessica.

Alex Shackley playing for his high school soccer team the Palo Verde Panthers. Photo courtesy of Alex Shackley.
Alex Shackley playing for his high school soccer team the Palo Verde Panthers. Photo courtesy of Alex Shackley.

He later scored the third goal of the match en route to a 4-2 win for Palo Verde.

The match ball was given to the Mayorgas in memory of their daughter for the day and the entire season because Justin graduated and stayed to help coach Kevin Hagood. His family also always went to the matches when they didn’t have to, and continued to do so after his sister died.

To Alex, for a family like the Mayorgas, one of the best families he says has ever known, to lose someone is heartbreaking.

“It’s not something I felt like I had to do,” Alex says. “It was just the only thing.”

A Different Kind of Culture Shock

Alex was born in Northampton, England, and grew up in Las Vegas in an English run household. He embraces this cross he has between American and English cultures.

When Alex and his older brother Matt were growing up, Alex was always smaller in size but that didn’t stop his competitive nature and hatred for losing.

When Alex and Matt played soccer matches in their big backyard. Alex willed himself to win, a practice that helped him become stronger and more aggressive when opposing other players his age.

“He can’t not be the best,” Matt says. “When you see him after a game when the team doesn’t do well or when he feels that he hasn’t played well, you can’t hold a conversation with him.”

Alex Shackley, left, and Matthew Shackley, right, at a stadium tour in 2002 of Anfield Stadium, home of Liverpool F.C., in Liverpool, England. Photo courtesy of Garry Shackley.
Alex Shackley, left, and Matthew Shackley, right, at a stadium tour in 2002 of Anfield Stadium, home of Liverpool F.C., in Liverpool, England. Photo courtesy of Garry Shackley.

From Alex’s sixth to ninth grade seasons, he was rejected for his size and played coming off the bench in soccer although he had the skill. Mainly because Hagood favored the upperclassmen on his high school team for his first couple of years.

There was only one person that believed in him: Frank D’Amelio. D’Amelio was the coach of Alex’s club team and taught him how to play even though he was being ignored by other teams.

“Hey, don’t worry about it you’ll always be a player on my team,” Alex recalls D’Amelio telling him. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t care about how big you are or how small you are, you can play. You have all the tools and you have the best skill I’ve seen.”

After D’Amelio showed his support, Alex went on to be captain of every team he’d eventually play for.

“Seeing what he’s done with soccer is inspiring, but it’s never really been a surprise because we’ve always known he’s so good and so dedicated,” Matt says. “So yes, inspiring, but I don’t know how to put it because it’s not a surprise, it’s inspiring: ‘Oh, that’s Alex.’ He’s always going to be a badass. I’m proud more than inspired because that’s just the way he’s going to be.”

As Alex and Matt have grown up they’ve followed different paths. Alex Shackley is still pursuing soccer as Matt has moved on to cycling. Alex says he likely would have given up or not worked as hard at soccer had it not been for his brother who always pushed him.

“As much as I want do as well as he’s done in all these things, I just really want to have that same passion and drive,” Alex says. “He’s been there every step of the way. Whenever I’ve had my head down he’s picked me up. He doesn’t stop and it makes me not want to stop. He always going and always just determined to just get what he wants whether with school, sports or just life in general.”

Go to Guy

Until Alex was 11 years old, he was coached by his father Garry who says was becoming acutely aware of being unfair with Alex’s playing time. One time when he coached a team that was playing well, he says Alex was the engine that kept things going. Garry says he decided to take Alex out and put somebody else in.

The team wasn’t able to function and started to fall apart.

“You’re going to have to put him back in,” Garry recalls his assistant Glen Anderson telling him.

“I can’t. I’ve just taken him out,” Garry Shackley remembers saying in response. “It doesn’t look right. It looks like I’m favoring my own child all the time.”

“Everybody knows he’s the best player when he’s out there,” Garry recalls Anderson saying in return.

Alex’s greatest attribute is that he makes everybody else play better no matter what level or team they play when he’s there to guide and lead. He’s a puppet master who’s pulling the strings and everybody else is responding to what he’s doing, Garry says.

He carried this style of play to high school as a member of Palo Verde under Hagood. He meant a lot to the team and Hagood because as coach he had no background in soccer which caused issues among the players on the team. These players didn’t show him any respect and their parents wanted him gone, Hagood says.

Alex saw it differently.

“Okay, he may not know as much,” Alex says, “but he’s still the coach and deserves respect.”

As captain in his senior year, he looked to set a tone and help Hagood garner respect from everyone on the team because he wouldn’t have it any other way, Alex says.

“He goes where he needs to be to be effective and he sees that,” Hagood says. “It’s just something that’s innate in him. And he tells players but he’s very calm but he works really, really hard.”

“He sits there and studies the game day after day after day. He watches a lot of pro soccer. He studies. He’s definitely an academic of the game and he just took in everything he possibly could to make sure that his team was going to run the right way.”

Alex Shackley setting up his fellow Jaspers during their last game of the year against the Iona Gaels.
Alex Shackley setting up his fellow Jaspers during their last game of the year against the Iona Gaels. Photo taken by Jonathan Reyes.

During Shackley’s senior year at Palo Verde, he was recruited by five colleges: Manhattan, Niagara, Occidental, Vermont and Evansville.

Prior to deciding where he wanted to go, he went to play for the Tampa Bay United at the Disney Soccer Showcase in Florida. He then sent an email to then Loyola and current Gettysburg coach Mark Mettrick and Manhattan coach Jorden Scott.

“Would you have a look at me?” Alex recalls writing in the email.

While Metrrick and Scott watched him play, Scott remembers turning to Mettrick and telling him, “All right. He’s not a bad little player.”

Scott spoke with Alex after the showcase, watched some video of him with him and then went to Las Vegas to another showcase to watch him play again where he met his parents. Alex says he wanted to see Manhattan next so Scott flew him up to see the college.

On his visit, Alex says he felt welcome and as if he fit right in when he met the other players on the team.

“That’s the place for me,” Garry recalls him saying.

He also visited Evansville, which he liked but never felt the same level of acceptance, and Occidental where he knew he didn’t want to go once he checked it out. He also knew he could play right away at Manhattan.

The irony of choosing Manhattan, a team that plays in the MAAC, is the other school he looked at, Niagara, is in the same conference. It won the MAAC title his freshman year.

“Oh my God, I’m guessing you probably wanted to go there,” Scott recalls telling Alex.

“No, I’m happy to be here,” Scott recalls Shackley saying in response. “Disappointed I wasn’t able to win a MAAC, but I’d rather win a MAAC here.”

“That’s just Alex for you,” Scott says. “If I could surround myself with guys like that all my time here, from a coaching perspective, then I’ll always be in a good place, I’ll always be happy to come to work no matter what the result is, I’ll always be happy to help out, work with players and do whatever I can for them because those are the type of kids that you want to work for and want around you all the time.”

“He’s a wonderful kid. I love him. I couldn’t imagine this team without a guy like that in it.”

For more photos of Shackley plus a short audio interview with quotes not included in the story click here.