There will be an upcoming major change in two area soccer programs.
One should have a significant impact, and one will have little, if any, impact on the program.
The Altoona Area High School School Board has confirmed James John as girls head soccer coach for the upcoming year.
The school board used to routinely select in-house candidates for this position, and the school has seen five new Lady Lion coaches in the past 10 years. With the selection of John, however, the current junior high school girls coach, AAHS has found a true gem and someone who should help develop, strengthen and advance the program for years to come.
John was an excellent choice, not only because of his familiarity with most of the girls, but because he has been a year-round dedicated coach to building the program. He will even take an active role in helping to coach a spring travel program for the Altoona girls.
John has a strong legacy of soccer within his family, has experience at the high school level, and also is an excellent player with a strong playing background. He has a mild demeanor but has a very strong work ethic and leads by example. He should prove to be a shot in the arm for the Altoona High School girls program.
Another move made by the Altoona School Board, which will definitely enhance the girls soccer program, is the movement of the ninth grade girls junior high basketball program to winter. This will allow a number of girls who wanted to play soccer and basketball, but in the past were forced to choose between the two, to now play both.
Conversely, Mount Aloysius College finds itself once again changing coaches on its men's soccer program, which has suffered terribly over the years. There have been three different coaches within the past three seasons, and the Mounties have not won a game in the past four years.
The program has a core group of about a half-dozen strong and dedicated players. The problem is, they don't even have enough players to field an entire team for every game. They have played games short-sided in the past and often just are searching for warm bodies to fill positions left open on the field. The men's program is hurt by the fact that 75 percent of the student body is female, and recruiting to the school is a difficult task.
The administration is very dedicated to keeping the program alive and improving it, however, it may be time to rethink this and perhaps drop the men's program until it has some kind of strong recruiting base from which to work.
Spring travel league soccer will be under way for all teams in our area on the Sunday following Easter.
Once again, most of the high schools that are looking to build a program have placed teams in the travel league. One team in particular to keep your eye on is the Altoona High School boys soccer travel team put together and managed by Jamie Cheers and coached by Jeff Barton. Assistant high school coach Dave McCarter will also play a role. It will be playing in Division 1 and last year went through opponents from Pittsburgh quite handily and won its division.
This will be a more challenging season as many of the teams it plays will be older and more experienced. It should, however, pay dividends by the fall season as most of these players will only be juniors and have put in a great deal of time playing together. They are coming of age and definitely should be a contender for the District 6 crown this year.
Our area and PA West always suffer from a shortage of referees, which hampers play. Part of the problem is that the PA West shoots itself in the foot.
A number of youth (teenage) referees, which they are always seeking, are looking to referee but must be recertified. Recertification courses are difficult to locate, and the youth end up taking the entire Level 9 introductory course over again. This course can easily be taught in seven or eight hours, especially given the fact that the youth will only be working the sidelines. The course has been dragged out by many instructors to be a full two-day, 16-hour-or-more course. This deters many youth from taking the course and hurts referee assignors in finding refs for the season.
Tom Schmitt writes a monthly soccer column for the Mirror.