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Bellwood needs to find solution for 50 soccer players

March 18, 2008
The Altoona Mirror
Local interscholastic soccer in our area is experiencing one of its biggest controversies in years.

A very strong movement is under way to establish both boys and girls soccer programs at Bellwood-Antis High School. School board members recently rejected a request by parents to form two squads at the school.

This rejection, however, did little to dampen the spirits or determination of parents and students at the school who have the burning desire to form boys and girls squads.

Several major factors must be examined.

High school soccer in Class A schools and schools with smaller enrollments has been on the rise, particularly in the past five years. Schools like Tussey Mountain, Tyrone, Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic and United have been able to form programs successfully. One concern often brought to light is that the scholastic soccer programs will have a negative impact on the football program since they are working with limited enrollment.

Thus far, this has not been the case. The Tyrone Golden Eagles soccer program has had no negative effect on the success of John Franco’s football squad.

Bishop Guilfoyle boys soccer coach Bill James feels that is because those students playing soccer for their school are there because of their love of the game and desire to represent their school at a varsity level. BG has been able to develop boys and girls soccer squads with a smaller enrollment than Bellwood Antis. In fact, James had 25 players out for his team last year.

Studies reveal that 88 percent of all high schools currently have scholastic soccer programs. Last year, seven schools on Bellwood’s football schedule had soccer programs as well. The number of youths in America involved with soccer programs has skyrocketed, and as they progress to the high school ranks, many of those students are choosing to represent their schools on the soccer field.

Former Bellwood-Antis football standout and current BG assistant boys soccer coach Dan Graham has a unique perspective on the situation. Graham is also an outstanding soccer player who has been a part of many travel teams and never had the opportunity to play soccer for his high school. Graham tried playing soccer through another school but was not able.

Graham feels many people may not understand the incredible conditioning and technical skill involved in playing soccer. The lack of ability to call a timeout or catch a break in between plays makes soccer more difficult in Graham’s opinion. Ultimately, he believes student athletes must be given the option of choosing the sport they wish to play. In fact, more and more football teams are looking to the soccer programs to strengthen their kicking game. Both Altoona and BG employed this strategy last year.

The other key issue at Bellwood Antis is the ability to find home field space. The Northern Blair Recreation Center nearby has solved that problem by providing a full-sized home field. Parents from Bellwood, like Bob Crook, who has had daughters enrolled in classic and travel programs for years, has worked intensely to form a Bellwood-Antis Soccer Boosters Club to help defray some of the cost of the programs. Altoona’s Big A Boosters Club has helped Altoona’s program for a number of years.

Crook and the parents are willing to set up a co-operative with another school to get the program on its feet. A survey of interest taken from within the Bellwood schools of eighth-through-11th grade students revealed 35 girls and 15 boys were committed to playing in a high school soccer program. These students and a determined group of parental supporters continue to work diligently to meet any obstacles that may fall in the way of initiating the soccer program.

Ultimately, Bellwood-Antis School District needs to take whatever steps are necessary to keep with the growing times and give these 50 or more students the opportunity to compete for their school at the high school level.

Tom Schmitt’s soccer column appears monthly in the Mirror.

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