By Mike Woitalla
A youth soccer issue has never stirred as much public debate and gotten as much media coverage as the U.S. Soccer Development Academy's "ban" on high school ball for the players of its 78 clubs.
Sunday’s New York Times addressed the issue in an article by Sam Borden, who wrote that, “Those in favor have lauded the move as a requisite (and obvious) step to raising the quality of soccer in the United States, while critics have labeled it misguided, overzealous and an unnecessary denial of a longstanding American experience for children.”
In the Times articles, Dan Woog, coach of Staples High School in Westport, Conn., recalled when his team won a league championship and a group of players showed up at a diner afterward with their championship medals around their necks. The other customers -- a majority of them Westport residents -- stood up and spontaneously gave the players a standing ovation.
“They’re going to remember that the rest of their lives,” Woog said. “They felt like kings. That’s not going to happen in the academy. …
“We should be in the business of letting kids be kids. Not forcing them into thinking they’re going to be playing for Arsenal or Manchester United two years from now.”
Terry Michler, coach at St. Louis’ Christian Brothers College High School, said that keeping a larger number of children from playing with their schools as a service to the significantly smaller number who may ultimately turn professional or play for the national team was unreasonable.
“There’s about 3,000 kids on these teams across the country, but there’s not 3,000 future professionals out there,” Michler said. “There’s not 300 of them. So some of these kids and their parents are going to be misled.”
GOOD FOR ALL? Kevin Baxter’s Los Angeles Times’ article is headlined, “Expanded soccer academy decision is a win-win: Elite young U.S. players will get more training and more opportunities will be created for high school players.”
Baxter interviewed Marie Ishida, executive director of the California Interscholastic Federation, which oversees sports programs at more than 1,500 member schools.
Ishida said, "Our attitude's kind of been 'OK, we lose the elite athletes. But that leaves a spot for somebody else.’”
WAIVERS. The particulars and criteria have not been revealed yet by U.S. Soccer, but its Academy league will grant waivers to some players allowing them to play high school ball.
Youth Technical Director Claudio Reyna said the waivers will help clubs manage their rosters as they make the transition to the 10-month season.
“If a team wants to carry 15 players and leave some spots open for players who can join at a certain deadline after a high school season, there’s basically a waiver for that player and he’s got to be rostered in,” Reyna said. “Eventually it will be used less, but it’s still available during this transition to make some things work because we needed to have a little bit of give and take with it for this year.”
But a key reason for the waivers is to accommodate low-income players who receive financial aid at private schools thanks in part to their soccer talent.
RULE CHANGE. Among the knocks on high school soccer are its different rules, such as unlimited substitution, as opposed to the seven subs per game, no-reentry policy of U.S. Soccer Academy play.
The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has made one change to put it more in line with standard soccer rules by eliminating the so-called “soft-red card,” effective with the 2012-13 season.
Under the previous high school rules, players receiving a red card for a second caution had to leave the game but could be replaced by a substitute. Now the team will play short-handed.
STATS: The NFHS’s participation figures for 2010-11 revealed soccer is the fifth-most popular high school sport for boys and girls.
On the boys side, 398,351 played high school ball last season, behind baseball (471,025), basketball (545,844), track & field (579,309) and football (1,108,441).
The ranking on the girls side: soccer (361,556), softball (373,535), volleyball (409,332), basketball (438,933) and track & field (475,265).
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United in Oakland, Calif. His youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)