Roger Shilling and Avery Velek hope to help pave the way for soccer players in Columbus.
The 11-year-olds recently were accepted to and competed in the Olympic Development Program Academy Camp at Belhaven College in Jackson.
Terry Eguaoje, the ODP Academy Camp director, said U.S. Soccer uses the ODP to attract the best talent it has in soccer from all age groups. He said the program, which is in its second year, is a feeder system into the regional and, eventually, the U.S. National Teams.
“The camp opens opportunities for each kid to be in the Mississippi State ODP team and to travel for regional tournaments, where we pick the national teams,” Eguaoje said. “I thought it was a good experience for the kids. Many of them had not left home and now there were in a camp for four days training at the highest level. A lot of them loved it.”
The camp ran from June 28-July 2 and featured individual and team work. Eguaoje said the emphasis was to train players at the highest level and to introduce them to some of the skills and strategies they will need to develop.
Eguaoje said younger players like Shilling and Velek can be invited to the ODP Camp, asked back, and then have opportunities to make the state teams that start with the Under-13 squad and go all of the way up to U-19.
In 2008-09, Shilling was a starting forward and led his Columbus United Soccer team in goals. Velek was a starting back and led the team in steals and tackles.
Tom Velek, the director of competitive soccer for Columbus United Soccer, said Shilling and his son, Avery, won”t be guaranteed spots on the U.S. National Team because of their recent experience. He believes, though, that their opportunity to participate in the ODP Academy Camp will help other players in Columbus.
“I wish I could tell you the last Columbus player in the ODP,” Velek said. “Columbus does not have a pipeline to get its players in the Olympic Development Program. We have to work very hard to get to a point where our players can participate in it, be aware of it, want to take the time and expense to do it, and to be motivated to do it. It is something we have to work very hard on as a program.”
Velek said programs in Jackson and in the Tupelo area that have more history and tradition have easier times getting their players seen and involved in the ODP program. He hopes having two players from Columbus is the program this year can lead to having eight or 10 in its next year.
“We”d like to get to a point where we are like Jackson or the North Mississippi programs and we have a regular stream of kids who are interested, who are qualified, and who are getting asked to be in the program,” Velek said. “Hopefully this is the beginning of getting kids in on a regular basis.”
Velek said he and other members of the Columbus United Soccer club will continue to raise awareness about the ODP Academy Camp and to encourage their players to invest the time and the energy to improve.
He said Shilling and Velek started work in May with a private coach to get ready for their experience at the ODP Academy Camp.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.