YARMOUTH — When high school soccer practice begins next week, Waynflete will be missing its left wing.
Patrick Shaw will be juggling a soccer ball not in Portland but in the Czech Republic. He’ll be one of about a dozen Americans among roughly 550 competitors at the Super Ball in Prague.
Shaw, 16, competes in a fledgling sport called freestyle football. It’s basically doing tricks with a soccer ball, but Shaw’s background in break dance raises his routines to something approaching art.
His skills landed him a role in a television commercial and have attracted nearly 6,000 Instagram followers. And last weekend in New York City, Shaw won the U.S. championship and a berth in the sport’s World Finals this fall.
Back in Maine this week, Shaw put his artistry on display on Yarmouth High’s turf field, tapping the ball from foot to foot, twirling a foot around the ball while it was aloft not once, not twice, but three times before intercepting it with the same foot before the ball struck turf.
Looking like he ought to be in a Harlem Globetrotters pre-game circle, Shaw flipped the ball effortlessly above his head and caught it between his shoulders on the back of his neck. At one point he popped the ball in the air, did a back flip and caught the ball with his knees before landing.
The weeklong competition in Prague marks the first international event for Shaw, who took up freestyle football at the urging of a Spanish exchange student who lived with Shaw’s family in North Yarmouth for a year during eighth grade.
“He introduced me to it,” Shaw said of Alvaro Obregon. “I had heard of it before, but never really put any time into it. He was the one who pushed me to do it.”
For three years before Obregon’s arrival, Shaw played for the Seacoast Academy soccer program based in New Hampshire, traveling three to four times a week for practices. He didn’t play for Waynflete until last fall, and the Flyers won the Class C state title. The Maine Soccer Coaches Association selected him as a regional all-star.
“He got kind of burned out,” said his mother, Sue Ellen Shaw. “He’s a very good soccer player but he’s really into the freestyle. They’re considered two different sports.”
Shaw also plays basketball at Waynflete and ran track in the spring. As a youngster, he learned break dancing through Casco Bay Movers and dabbled in gymnastics as a 10-year-old.
Standing 5 feet, 8½ inches and weighing 150 pounds, Shaw controls the ball as if on a string while standing, sitting, on his back or propping himself briefly on one hand or longer on two. His record for juggling a ball with his feet (and occasional use of knees) is 2,660, a mark he achieved two years ago.
“After that, I was like, that’s too much to count,” he said. “I’m not doing that anymore.”
Last weekend in New York City, Shaw went up against 32 competitors in the U.S. Freestyle Championship. Two years ago, he failed to qualify for the final 16. Last year, he advanced to the top four. This year, judges determined Shaw was the best freestyler, giving him a berth in the Red Bull Street Style World Finals. That event is scheduled for Miami in mid-November, when he will compete against freestylers from more than 50 nations.
Red Bull has been hosting the World Finals, which features champions from about 50 countries, since 2008. The reigning champion hails from Norway. Others have come from Poland, Argentina, France, Great Britain and Japan.
Once a field is winnowed to a manageable size of 16, a bracket format takes over in which two competitors with one ball alternate 30-second routines for a total of three minutes in a head-to-head battle. A three-judge panel decides the winner on the basis of five categories: originality, execution, difficulty, all-round and control.
All-round involves five parts of freestyle: upper-body tricks, lower-body tricks, sit downs, transitions, acrobatics and ground moves.
Freestyle football grew out of soccer warm-up exercises, most notably performed in the 1980s by Argentina’s Diego Maradona. Shaw said he’s the only freestyler in Maine. There are a few in Massachusetts but most hail from New York or Los Angeles.
“Some guys are more hard-core soccer,” he said. “My style is more integrating break dancing.”
A talent agency has Shaw under contract and in February 2018 flew him to California to perform in a commercial for Samsung’s Galaxy A80 cellphone with a rotating camera.
“It was pretty cool,” Shaw said. “Every once in a while someone will say, ‘Dude, I saw you on TV.’”
As for aspirations, Shaw hopes to become a professional freestyler. He spends two to three hours daily practicing his craft, perfecting tricks and conjuring up new ones.
“I’m open to college soccer,” he said. “But this is my main thing.”