May 8, 2010 11:45:00 PM
The East Mississippi Community College Board of Trustees'' decision Monday to suspend the school''s men''s and women''s soccer programs has surprised and confused many coaches and followers of the teams.
The surprise is understandable given that EMCC coach Junior Noel, who coached the men''s team for the past three years and the women''s team the past two years, had no idea a move like that was going to be made until Tuesday morning, when he also was informed his contract would not be renewed.
The confusion comes from the fact that those interviewed beleive the programs can be successful if put in the right situation.
Sean McDonnall, who started the men''s soccer program at EMCC in 1998 and the women''s program at the school in 2000, said he learned of the news from Starkville High School boys soccer coach Brian Bennett. McDonnall is as assistant principal at Starkville High, and Bennett was the first coach of the EMCC women''s soccer team.
"I am disappointed, very disappointed," McDonnall said. "The reason we started the soccer program at EMCC in 1998 was to draw kids in and to get more to EMCC."
McDonnall said he formed the programs because as a high school soccer coach he always was frustrated by the lack of opportunities players in this area had to go on to play soccer in college. He said the decision to suspend the soccer programs hits close to home because he invested a lot of blood and sweat into the development of the program and the development of a field.
McDonnall returned to Starkville for a teaching opportunity in 2001, but he admitted he probably would still be coaching junior college soccer if EMCC had moved its soccer programs to Mayhew, one of its branch campuses. He said Mayhew''s location, about 20 minutes from Columbus and Starkville, would have made it easier for coaches to recruit there as opposed to Scooba, which is in Kemper County and is about an hour from Columbus and Starkville and about 45 minutes from Meridian.
Bennett, who coached the EMCC women''s team from 200-03 and then moved over to coach the EMCC men''s team from 2004-06, said the school''s decision to suspend the programs doesn''t make sense to him. He said he realizes it is tough to recruit to Scooba and that there might not be as deep a pool of talent in this area compared to Jackson, the GUlf Coast, or Tupelo, but he said there is a way EMCC can make soccer work. He believes EMCC needs to consider moving its soccer programs to Mayhew to capitalize on a better location that would be more accessible and more appealing to soccer players in the Golden Triangle.
"It is just tough down there," Bennett said. "I have had kids tell me that they would rather go to Mississippi State and not play soccer than go to Scooba to play soccer. (If the soccer programs were moved to Mayhew), the kids in Starkville and Columbus would have more of a big college atmosphere (with Mississippi State) and it would be closer to home. I think it could be done."
Bennett said EMCC could play its soccer matches in Columbus or in Starkville at the SportsPlex. That decision would be similar to the one that Holmes C.C. made when it relocated its soccer programs from Goodman to Freedom Ridge Park in Ridgeland. He said that move allowed the school to better recruit in the Jackson area, where their is plenty of soccer talent.
Caledonia High boys soccer coach Morgan Mansfield played soccer at Holmes C.C., and he agrees with McDonnall and Bennett that a home in the Golden Triangle would be a better fit for EMCC.
Mansfield said EMCC coach Junior Noel had made strides with the men''s and women''s soccer programs and that a move out of Scooba would help generate more interest, better attendance, and improve the school''s chances when it came to recruiting top soccer players.
"It took me as a shock," Mansfield said of the school''s decision to suspend the programs. "I think the only way the program is going to take off is (if they move it to Mayhew). They are going to be able to get so many more kids, and the kids will be able to stay at home and live at home and cut down on costs."
Mansfield said leaving the soccer programs in Scooba puts EMCC at a disadvantage when it recruits against other state junior colleges, like Itawamba C.C., that are located in areas with more things to do. Still, he said with all of the soccer talent in the area there is no reason why programs at EMCC and ICC couldn''t be successful.
In 2009, former Caledonia High soccer players Taylor Chisolm, Tyler Pounder, and Seth Wood played for EMCC. Former Starkville High standouts Josh Shields and Eduardo Fumo also played for the Lions.
Rusty Chisolm, whose older sons, Matt (2004-05) and Todd (2006-07), also played soccer at EMCC, added his voice to those who would like to see EMCC move its soccer programs to Mayhew. He said it is disappointing to see the school suspend the programs just when it looked like they had a little momentum.
Chisolm said the convenience of having the soccer programs in Mayhew would make it easier for student-athletes to hold down part-time jobs and to reduce their college expenses. He said it also would help EMCC better compete for players with ICC and Northeast Mississippi C.C.
"I really hate to see it, especially for the kids in this area that don''t get a chance to go to ICC and Northeast, because those schools pull a lot of players out of the North," Chisolm said. "That means the kids from the Golden Triangle get pushed out. Those schools still offer scholarships to the exceptional standouts go up that way, but I believe the program would be a lot better and it would be able to pull down a lot more players if it was in Mayhew."
Chisolm said hiring a new coach wouldn''t be a cure-all for the program. He also isn''t sure how positively the completion of the $4.7 million multi-sport facility that is designed to accommodate football and soccer would help the soccer program. He said the school has done a great job improving its baseball and softball facilities, but he said the location of the school is a crucial ingredient in the equation.
ICC soccer coach Mike Sullivan, who earlier this week signed Fumo to a scholarship, praised the efforts of Noel for raising the level of EMCC men''s and women''s teams. He said it was a shock for him, too, to learn EMCC was suspending its programs. He said the school''s new multi-sport facility would be a "step in the right direction," but that he wasn''t sure what else EMCC could do to make its soccer programs more competitive. He said each junior college in the state faces unique challenges when it comes to location, depth of talent from the high school in its district, and its resources. He said he is fortunate to have big schools in his district, like Tupelo High, that have a solid feeder program and plenty of student-athletes who want to stay close to home to play soccer.
Sullivan said the loss of opportunities for players is his biggest concern.
"My passion is soccer," Sullivan said. "I would like to see every area be strong and that whenever we play all f the games are 1-0 and 2-1 games. That means everybody has good programs and there are loads of good kids to choose from."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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