June 2008

The Rest of the World calls it Football

Author: Paul deVere | Photographer: JOhn Brackett

Orange slices. Plenty of fluids. A spring (or fall) Saturday morning. Chaplin Park. If you have any relationship (mother, father, grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc.) with a child between the ages of four and 15 on Hilton Head Island the odds (3:1) are you know what’s coming: SOCCER!

For some reason, even with David Beckham’s help (he married “Posh Spice” [Victoria Adams] for goodness sake!), soccer in the U.S. remains a “second class citizen” when it comes to headlines on the front page of the sports section. Yet one visit to the new Chaplin Park sports complex on any given spring/summer Saturday and POW! No matter what your age, you are assailed by the energy of hundreds of children learning and loving a game the rest of the world calls “football.”

According to recreation director, Bob Rozek, of the Island Recreation Association, close to 600 kids are involved in “Rec” soccer. That doesn’t include the traveling soccer teams or the Bluffton soccer program. Plus there are the junior varsity and trophy-willing varsity teams at the area high schools. While many of the players started in the Island Rec program, a trophy isn’t what the Rec Center’s program is all about.

“Our objectives are to develop skills, sportsmanship—learning how to win or lose properly, developing friendships, playing, and having fun. Fun overrides all of them,” Rozek explained.

Rozek has been with the soccer program for 19 years, and he’s seen it change, for the better. “People are a little more willing to coach now. What’s changed is a lot of us didn’t grow up with soccer, so we were afraid to coach. But now, some of these younger guys who have children—they played when they were younger. There are more people who step forward to help coach. We don’t have to struggle as much, although we do struggle,” he said. “We are trying to work on doing more coach clinics and more education for coaches,” Rozek added.

He now has a soccer director, Nate Skager, to help with those 600 bundles of energy. That definitely helps. So does the Chaplin Community Park complex. In the past, there was a struggle to have enough soccer fields. Now all “Rec soccer” is played at Chaplin for both the fall and spring seasons. “We could potentially play eight games at a time there,” Rozek said.

Thanks to Kiwanis Club of Hilton Head-Palmetto (that would be the “noon” group), there is now a concession stand at Chaplin Park for players and parents. “All the money they make goes right back into the community,” said Rozek.

But the biggest change Rozek has seen is the way the game is being taught. “What’s changed most is the changes we’re making: smaller fields, smaller numbers on the field, almost ‘forced participation.’ We’re trying to develop skills at a younger age—give everyone more playing time, more touches on the ball and more involvement in the game. We think it benefits the children,” he said.

These changes were the result of suggestions from a national youth soccer organization. Rozek said, “We started two years ago with 3v.3 with our four- and five-year-olds. Now we’re doing 4 v.4 with our six- and seven-year-olds. So it’s kind of gently moving up.”

For a guy who didn’t grow up playing soccer, Rozek has definitely gotten into the game. “Soccer is like any other sport. You come to soccer practice; you bring your soccer ball. Like baseball—you bring your mitt. The ball should be at your feet at all times. If the coach makes you run, you run with the ball, you dribble the ball from point A to point B. And whatever you’re doing, you do it all together. You don’t do it one at a time. Always touching the ball, always doing drills,” Rozek explained. He said that participation by all players, no matter what skill level, is what the Rec soccer program is all about.

What hasn’t changed, Rozek laughed, are parents. Though a few moms and dads are “overzealous,” Rozek said, “We have great coaches, great volunteerism. I couldn’t be more pleased at how many people have stepped forward. Win or lose, it’s not a big deal. We’re out there for the children.”

Meet Coach Morgan O’Banion

Most of those “great coaches” whom Bob Rozek referred to are parents of the players, both moms and dads. But one of them is Morgan O’Banion, coach of the Gladiators, nine- to 11-year old boys. She played as a child, but chose golf when she got a scholarship to Coastal Carolina University. This is her third spring coaching. Single. No kids… that is until she gets to Chaplin Park.

CH2: Given you’re a twenty-something single young lady with no kids, why coach?
Morgan O’Banion: My major in school was education. When I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher, I knew I wanted to do something with kids. I love kids. No matter what kind of day I’ve had, when I run out there with the little boys, it’s the best thing in the world.

CH2: Why soccer?
MO: I played when I was younger, in rec soccer. At our house, there were four of us; every Saturday was soccer, soccer, soccer. I love soccer. You run around, you’re outside. I want to be out there. That’s not just me, it’s all the coaches.

CH2: Is there a reason you chose nine to 11-year-olds?
MO: They’re still at the age when they will look up to me and understand and respect what I’m saying. They’re still at an age where they’re not talking back. (Laughs.) This year we’re the Gladiators. Last year we were the Terminators.

CH2: Since you don’t have a player out there, how were the Gladiators picked?
MO: I usually get the new kids. It might be their first year signing up. They may not know anybody or not have buddies playing with them. That’s what is so great. By the end of the season, we come together as a team and start winning games.

CH2: What do you think you bring to the team?
MO: When I was younger, playing rec soccer, whether we won or lost, we did ‘the tunnel.’ When I first started coaching, no one did the tunnel, and that’s the most fun part of the game! The kids keep running through it; the parents are cheering; there are big grins on the kids’ faces.

CH2: How do the children’s parents react to you?
MO: The parents are so appreciative. That makes a difference, too. Last year I was out having dinner. The waitress came over and said, “You don’t have a bill. That table over there took care of it for you.” It was the parents of one of my players. That was one of the nicest things. I appreciated it so much. I’ll never forget that.

CH2: How important do you think soccer is for children?
MO: My whole life, everything I’ve ever accomplished, I gave all the credit to athletics. I would say teamwork, competitiveness, hard work, commitment, all of those things athletics taught me. I’ve seen all that in our teams. There’s also heart. All of those things come together in the end. Whether we won all of our games or lost. When we’re sitting there at our little ice cream party at the end of the season and all of the boys are buddying up and having a good time, that’s the ultimate satisfaction.

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