September 30, 2012 1:58:12 AM
Dr. Tom Velek never has looked at soccer as a sport for only his children.
That attitude explains why Velek has worked in so many capacities -- coach, administrator, organizer, evaluator, teacher, manager -- to help grow the sport he loves in the city of Columbus.
This week, Velek was recognized for his work as he was named Mississippi Soccer Association Coach of the Year.
"It really is neat," said Velek, who is a professor at the Mississippi University for Women and is director of competitive soccer for the Columbus United travel soccer club. "I told Greg (Lewis) I couldn't have done anything if (the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority) hadn't helped support a good program."
Lewis, who is director of programs for CLRA, has worked with Velek for nearly all of the time Velek has been involved with soccer in Columbus. He said Velek is a "tremendous asset in our program" who is deserving of the honor. The award will be presented to Velek in January in Vicksburg.
"Tom has gone far beyond the call of duty in what he is supposed to do as a coach," Lewis said. "He spends countless hours on his own to make sure the program is successful and everyone else in the program is accommodated."
Lewis said Velek has been instrumental in helping coaches in Columbus to learn about the sport and to become certified. He also said Velek's work with the Columbus United Under-14 boys team that won the Division II and III state titles as well as a MSA Coaches Cup championship has helped elevate Columbus' standing as a soccer city in the state of Mississippi.
"Tom wants to help Columbus have the best program in the region," Lewis said. "(Winning the award) is a significant achievement, and Tom is truly worthy of that award. He deserves that award for what he is doing for the entire program. Tom has been working hard like he has had been working now for the past five or six years. He has done a tremendous job for us."
Brad Stanback and Chris Hemphill, two youth soccer coaches in Columbus, agree. Earlier this year, Stanback nominated Velek, who is a professor of History, director of the Ina E. Gordy Honors College, and coordinator of the Study Abroad Programs at MUW, for the award, while Hemphill provided additional recommendation and support in a portfolio that was submitted on Velek's behalf.
"Coach Velek is fanatical with regards to player development," Stanback wrote. "He preaches it to his parents and to other coaches in his organization. He works very hard to constantly develop and improve the training for his teams."
Hemphill outlined all the ways Velek has been involved in raising awareness and money and building programs, like the TOPSoccer program, in Columbus. TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer) is a community-based training and team placement program for young athletes with special needs.
"Tom is always working for the future," Lewis said. "He truly is an ambassador for soccer and tries to facilitate and accommodate all of the coaches in the program. He tries to make it work for everybody."
Velek is coaching his oldest son, Avery, with the Columbus United' Under-16 team. His is working as an assistant coach with Columbus United's U-12 team. His youngest son, Coen, is on that team.
"I have tried to do things that benefit an entire program rather than just a team," said Velek, who is the MSA vice president for Division II. "One of the reasons why Columbus United is here five years later is we have thought about the program as a whole. We are doing things that engaged the community. We are asking people to do things so they feel a part of a whole."
Velek said part of his motivation comes from the fact that he and his sons love the sport. But he knows there will come a time when his sons will move on, but he wants to make sure there is something established for future generations of soccer players in Columbus. He feels the work he and others have done so far has put Columbus on the right track. The unveiling of the Soccer Complex at Burns Bottom is another positive he feels will bolster Columbus' growth as a soccer destination.
"I would like to see Columbus be the kind of soccer program that other areas want to be a part of," Velek said. "I want us to host tournaments, but the most important thing we have to have is quality programs for kids in this community. Whether they play for one, two, five or eight years, we want kids to have a quality and a good athletic experience so they become life-long athletes. That is the most important thing. We want to have them think about exercise, to love sports, and to understand there is a sport for them."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.