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TOPSoccer program gearing up for second year


Adam Minichino



Between John Longmire and Tom Velek, Melissa Dunaway really didn't have a choice. 


Truth be told, though, Dunaway didn't have problem being encouraged to help lead the TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer) in Columbus. Even though she is new to organizing a program of this magnitude, Dunaway's two sons, Eric and Colin, were involved last season in the inaugural year Columbus United Soccer Club partnered with the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority and the Greater Columbus Civitan Club to bring the U.S. Youth Soccer program to the Golden Triangle. 


This season, Dunaway wants to do everything she can to reach more athletes and to get the word out about how the program benefits everybody involved. 


"I am learning the ropes on how to get it done," Dunaway said. "My kids really loved it." 


Dunaway's sons have played soccer for coach Tom Velek in the United Soccer program for the past four seasons. She also takes pictures for the club. 


Velek, the director of competitive soccer for Columbus United, CLRA's Division II competitive soccer club, played an integral role in bringing the community-based training and placement initiative for players with disabilities to Columbus. He teamed with Longmire, president of the Greater Columbus Civitan Club, and Greg Lewis with CLRA, to create TOPSoccer and knew Dunaway would be a great choice to take on the role of expanding the program. 


"My goal is to have programs that have the ability to continue," Velek said. "I think it was important with the TOPSoccer program to be able to turn it over to somebody like Melissa, and I think it is important for her to do it for a couple of reasons. She is part of the United family, but she is not a coach or the director of competitive soccer, so it is moving that program, which is more of a community-based program, to someone with strong community ties." 


TOPSoccer will hold a training session at 2 p.m. Jan. 27 at Mississippi University for Women. Anyone who is interested in working with the program as a coach, buddy, or as a parent needs to go through that free training session, which is provided by the Mississippi Soccer Association. 


The program is organized by youth soccer association volunteers, and is designed to give boys and girls ages 4-19 with mental and physical disabilities a chance to learn and to play soccer.  


Parents/guardians can go to and click the Soccer link at the left of the page and click the TOPSoccer links at the bottom right of the page. Those interested in participating should complete the registration form and return it to the CLRA office in Columbus. Registration forms also can be picked up at the CLRA Propst Park office.  


The program, which will be at the Cook Soccer Complex, is open to anyone in Lowndes County and everyone in neighboring counties where a TOPSoccer program isn't offered.  


All training and playing equipment will be provided. Players will receive a soccer jersey. They will need to provide their other personal attire and shin guards. Parents/guardians are responsible for transportation to and from training.  


"We want to make sure as many parents and players with special needs know it is there, it is available, and we can accommodate them," Velek said. "I think when you hear soccer, parents will look at their kid and go, 'No way my kid can play soccer if they are in a wheelchair or a walker.' I think we did a good job accommodating all of the participants." 


Velek said a donation by the Hemphill family will help the program address intended upgrades with equipment. 


"I hope I live up to Tom's and John's expectations," Dunaway said. "I wouldn't have stepped up to do it on my own, but John said, 'Oh, you can do it,' and Tom gave me a final push. 


"I have to do a good job on this. My kids have no problem with me being involved with it. I think they are kind of proud of me for doing it." 


n In related news, registration for Columbus United's upcoming season is open. The primary goal of Division II soccer is player development and challenging the player to become better. This is pursued through enhanced skills training, challenging conditioning, and wider competition. United is a competitive soccer club. Typically teams will play 25-30 matches in a combination of intra-city competition and tournaments. Matches are played against teams from Starkville, Saltillo, Oxford, Greenville, and many other cities. 


United registration is $125 for Under-10 and U-12 players who have registered for recreational soccer. 


United registration is $175 for U14- U19 players, these players will be registered with MSA by CLRA. 


Players may register online at or in person at the CLRA office at Propst Park.


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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