Altoona boys soccer set to celebrate 50 years

Soccer commentary

The Altoona Area High School boys soccer team will mark its 50th anniversary on Saturday on Altoona homecoming weekend.

The celebration will be highlighted when approximately 30-40 alumni take the field to play in the first alumni game. Play at the high school level, initiating 50 years ago, was quite different from what is seen in the program today. Jay Perry was the initial coach, and through the years, many active in soccer throughout the community served as head coach including, Jim Fee and Dave Alexander.

Alexander served as coach for 20 years. Current coach Dave McCarter, who was an assistant coach with the program for nearly two decades, said the team used Logan Junior High School field for practices and games until 1992. The team struggled to achieve enough numbers to field a team during the early year.

After 1992, visiting squads disliked the Mansion Park artificial turf because of the fast pace and speed at which the ball moved on turf. Eventually, its hard and even surface, unhampered by divots or mud puddles, had other school follow, and now either all teams are playing on turf or moving toward that end.

The Altoona program garnered district titles in 1999 and 2007 and hailed four all-state players.

McCarter said the growth of AYSO and travel soccer, along with the initiation of a junior high school program, has helped to balloon numbers up to where they are today. McCarter rostered 28 players this year with both a varsity and junior varsity program. With the popularity of the game both nationwide and worldwide growing, he expects to see numbers in the program continue to climb.

Soccer kickers

There is a definite link between area football and soccer programs. Many high schools have looked to their soccer programs to find their place-kicker for the football team.

Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic and Altoona Area are two examples.

With his origins in soccer, Kolton McGhee has been Bishop Guilfoyle’s kicker since his freshman year. Last season, he was 10-for-10 in field goals, with his long being a 52-yard boot against Somerset. During the state championship game, he nailed a 48-yard field goal. He has been ranked as one of the top specialists in the nation and has verbally committed to West Virginia University to handle its kicking duties.

Altoona soccer standout Alex Berardinelli expanded his horizons by taking to kicking on the gridiron as well as the soccer field this season. With no formal football kicking training, but an extremely powerful shot on goal, Berardinelli has been handling kickoff duties for the Lions with most kicks going inside the 10-yard line.

Moving on up

Altoona also has seen one of its own referees move from club, classic and PIAA games to handling games at the collegiate level.

P.R. Caracciolo is now handling games as an assistant referee at the NCAA level. His first game at the collegiate level came during the Penn State-Beaver vs. Florida International game.

The pace of the game is exceptionally fast at the college level and referees have to pass a fitness exam, physical exam and written exam. Caracciolo sees the use of the delay of game called more in college ranks with the use of the 45-minute half. He credits local referees Linda Irvin and Brian Wicker for their encouragement of him to move to the NCAA ranks.

Tom Schmitt writes a monthly soccer column for the Mirror.