July 19, 2012 10:16:34 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Terry Eguaoje is impressed.
The Mississippi Soccer Association's state technical director of coaching has been all over the state numerous times in the past six years and knows all of the hot soccer spots.
Places like Tupelo, Hattiesburg, Clinton, and Brandon come to Eguaoje's mind when he asked to name some of the state's most well-known soccer locales.
After seeing the new Burns Bottom Soccer Complex, Eguaoje believes there's no reason why Columbus won't carve out a place on that short list.
"My hope is we're going to bring a lot of soccer to this community," Eguaoje said. "When you talk about soccer, you talk about economic growth, as well, because you have parents who come on the weekend and they're here to spend money and have fun and eat at restaurants. I think it is going to be great for Columbus. I am excited to see the new project."
Eguaoje was in Columbus on Tuesday and on Wednesday to work with teams from the Columbus United Soccer Club and to tour and the city's new facility. Kevin Stafford, engineer for the fields, said work on the fields is projected to be completed Aug. 21. He said all of the sod on the fields will be laid down this week.
Despite the rain that hit the area in the middle of the day, Eguaoje toured the south and north sides of the complex. He looked at diagrams that showed how the number of fields could be changed depending on the needs of the organizers. He also learned about construction plans for a concession stand, bathrooms, an officials area, and other amenities that will help complete the project.
"Columbus coming in to Mississippi Soccer with this great facility, it is awesome," Eguaoje said. "We are really looking forward to working here and bringing more soccer down to this city."
Tom Velek, the director of competitive soccer for the Columbus United Soccer Club, coach Chris Hemphill, and Greg Lewis, the director of programs for the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority
Velek also is vice president for Division II (elect) for MSA. He hopes Eguaoje's visit to Columbus paves the way for local players of all levels to play on top-notch fields and for the city to bring tournaments to Columbus.
"This is the type of groundwork that is needed for Columbus to host MSA tournaments," Velek said. "We have no history or record of hosting MSA tournaments, nor even our local tournaments. We have to compete with locals that have a record of success. Meetings such as this are critical."
Eguaoje, who is from Nigeria, also is the founder and chief executive officer of Football Coaches Association of African Nations. He played soccer at Reinhardt University and helped the program win a NAIA Regional Championship in 1999. He went on to be a student-assistant coach and a goalkeeper trainer at Kennesaw State University, where he helped the women's team win the 2003 Division II championship. He also has served as director of coaching for Fusion Soccer Club, worked with the Texas Premier Girls Academy Program, and was on staff with the South Texas Youth Soccer Association as a state coaching education instructor, an Olympic Development Program scout, and as an administrator.
Now in his sixth year with MSA, Eguaoje holds a master's degree in sport management and completed his Doctorate degree in education. His coaching qualifications include USSF "A" License, NSCAA Premier Diploma, USSF National Youth, NSCAA National Youth, and USSF Goalkeeper License.
Eguaoje's experience helps him understand the challenges a state like Mississippi, which has 23,000-25,000 registered soccer players, when it tries to compete against bigger states like Georgia, Florida, and Texas, just to name three in the region. But Eguaoje said clubs and players in Mississippi have matured and are making progress to compete more consistently against states and clubs with deeper traditions.
For that to continue to happen, Eguaoje said kids have to have more opportunities to play and they have to receive the best possible training so they learn at the highest level and continue to have fun playing.
"In terms of player development, soccer is growing tremendously," Eguaoje said. "We used to be a laughingstock in the region in terms of playing abilities. Those days are gone because we are beating Texas (and competing with other states). We also have more kids on the U.S. National Teams and in the National pool among the smaller states."
Seeing Columbus' commitment to soccer with the new Burns Bottom Complex, Eguaoje encouraged young players to watch more soccer so they can see what the best players in the world are doing. Those moves will help younger players develop a greater understanding of the game and help spread a "culture of soccer" he hopes will catch on in this area and the rest of the state.
"Soccer is like a computer: Garbage in, garbage out," Eguaoje said. "What you teach these kids is what they're going to produce down the road. My job is to make sure every parent or any coach who steps on the field is licensed. ... Five years ago, none of these guys (Lewis and Velek) had licenses, but now they are qualified coaches who know the game and who can read the game. That just translates to better players.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.