Ohio coaches lead Athens youth club

Ohio University assistant women’s soccer coach Kelly Keelan demonstrates the proper technique for a header to the members of the Bobcat Soccer Club Monday at Chessa Field. (SARAH KRAMER | For The Post)

Not only has Ohio’s coaching staff led the Bobcats to first place in the Mid-American Conference East Division, but the coaches also have directed one of Athens’ first competitive youth soccer clubs.

Ohio’s coaches and players hosted the Bobcat Soccer Training Series last winter and continued in the spring with 75 players coming out to play, coach Stacy Strauss said. After the clinics ended, several parents approached her about giving their sons and daughters something more than recreational soccer.

Strauss took the clinic a step further and began the Bobcat Soccer Club, which has under-10 and under-12 coed teams. Assistant coaches Kelly Keelan and Amy Rossi, as well as volunteer assistant Mike Stoerkel, coach the club, which plays in the competitive Mid-Ohio Select Soccer League.

Keelan said she would like to add more teams as the club gains popularity.“We had tryouts in June, and then the kids that made the cut got brand new uni

forms and everything that they have never really had access to,” Strauss said. “Being able to train on this field is a big deal to them and wear a uniform that says ‘Bobcat Soccer Club’ has been really cool for them.”

“There is nothing necessarily here, so we wanted to bring to Athens a real committed club, and we don’t take away from them playing rec as long as it doesn’t conflict with us,” Keelan said.

Strauss and Keelan said the club is an opportunity to connect the community and the varsity program. Several players volunteered their time during the winter and spring clinics, and when the club began in the fall, players Toye Famodu and Remi Famodu continued helping out.

“The coaches encouraged us to come out first in the winter more as an assignment to see how it would go,” Toye Famodu said. “We want to stick with this and stay with them. I wanted to get to know them more personally.”

The opportunity to coach gives the players a chance to return the favor of having some of the younger Bobcat fans come to watch their games.

“I love coming to their practices and hear them talk about how they came to our game, and then seeing them on the sidelines,” Ohio defender Remi Famodu said. “I love seeing them on a weekly basis and seeing them improve.”

Success for the club is not about wins and losses but the knowledge and skills the kids gain.

One parent, Kristina Gerig, said the club has been effective because of the interest the coaches have in the players.

“It’s a very positive experience. They’re extremely encouraging with the kids,” Gerig said. “But underneath all that is a very strong training program.”

Many of the same kids who played in the winter and spring sessions are now in uniform for the Bobcat Soccer Club, representing both the Athens community and Southeast Ohio as a whole.

“The best part is seeing how happy they are even if they lost. Even if they lost, they still have learned something,” Keelan said. “You pick little things to work on in practice and see how it comes out in the game, and when it does, it is just a joy to see that they’re learning while having fun.”

The coaches are trying to grow the club to offer players a better chance of competing at the high school or collegiate level.

The club players can’t wait to walk to their practice or game and step onto Chessa Field, just like the Ohio Bobcats, Keelan said.

“Five or 10 years from now, I hope they will look back and say, ‘I remember learning this’ when they get a new coach or at the high school level,” Keelan said. “I think that because they have had our girls helping them out, it’s just a huge motivational piece, that they want to say, ‘I want to play here someday.’ ”

The coaches will be hosting another training session this winter. Information about the club and clinics can be found at www.bobcatsoccerclub.com.

mb832409@ohiou.edu

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