January 24, 2011 8:55:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Tarah Henderson and Jasmine Simmons are excited about the opportunity to celebrate the game of soccer and to introduce it to children who might no know a lot about it.
The Mississippi State soccer players will serve as guest instructors in a Soccer Across America program that will hold four soccer clinics at Stokes-Beard Technology and Communication Magnet School. All four of the sessions will run from 1-2 p.m. at the school. They will be Tuesday, Thursday, Feb. 1 and Feb. 3.
Henderson, a junior forward, and Simmons, a sophomore midfielder, have experience working with younger players. Henderson, who is Martinez, Ga., worked with 4-year-olds at a soccer camp, while Simmons, who is from Oklahoma City, Okla., served as an instructor back home with her club team.
"I grew up playing with my younger brother, teaching him things, so I am kind of used to (working with children)," Henderson said.
Said Simmons, "You just start with the little things. You don''t know a lot about the game at that age, so you start with the small stuff. If they like it they will want to learn more about it."
Simmons said her older brother, who played at soccer at Missouri Southern, helped teach her about the game. She said soccer became a family sport that everyone grew to enjoy. She hopes her passion for the sport will help make it easier for the children to understand how to play the game.
"It was different from other sports that I played (growing up)," Simmons said. "I know at a young age kids will try all sports, and soccer was different. I don''t know what about it was so much fun. I guess when you''re a little kid you have so much energy and soccer takes a lot of energy and running around.
"I think it''s going to be a lot of fun. I love working with kids that age and doing something I enjoy doing and trying to teach them."
Dr. Thomas G. Velek, the director of competitive soccer for the Columbus United Soccer Club, hopes the program will spark an interest in the children that keeps them involved in soccer.
"We hope this program will excite kids about the sport and present two very positive athletic role models to the kids," Velek said. "The benefits of athletic participation are well documented -- lower levels of childhood obesity, high grades, less anti-social behavior. If even one child finds a sporting home in soccer from this program it is worth the effort."
Soccer Across America is designed to introduce soccer to children in communities not yet served by clubs and leagues. Focused on making soccer available to lower-income children in underserved communities, Soccer Across America provides training and administrative guidance to players and organizations who might otherwise not be exposed to the sport.
Soccer Across America also helps new programs find the funding and equipment to begin and then to expand their activities.
Grants are for up to $500 per organization, with the grant applicant committing to providing an amount matching the grant in pursuit of the program''s goal. Supplemental grants may be awarded for the same program.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.