Futbol on the Rise by Erika Scannell
We are all familiar with modern-day Olympics: the leading international sporting competitions featuring the world’s greatest athletes of various specialties from more than 200 nations, alternating every two years, with Winter and Summer game events occurring every four. These worldwide events were inspired by the ancient Olympic Games originally held in Olympia, Greece, dating back as far back as the 8th century BC. As equally dated is the game of football – not the American version of “pigskin” football, but what is known to most of us as “soccer.”
Variations of the game of soccer date as far back as the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC. The modern version is credited to the medieval times in England and was even banned for brief periods in both England and Scotland during the 13th and 14th centuries because it was deemed as “too violent.” And like the Olympics, football has an international appeal as well as an “Olympics of Soccer” known as the World Cup, with a worldwide tournament occurring every four years. Summer 2014 happens to be a World Cup summer with final games being played in this year’s host country, Brazil, from mid-June through mid-July.
Today, according to the United States Soccer Federation, there are an estimated 4.04 million players participating annually in youth soccer – more than in Little League. Moreover, the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association reports that high school soccer player participation has the fastest growth rate among any major sport. The number of women's collegiate soccer teams jumped 115 percent since the United States hosted the World Cup in 1994, and the number of men's teams rose 27.5 percent over the same period, according to the NCAA.
So what programs develop young athletes for NCAA collegiate teams? Local- and state-funded recreational teams as well as club or travel leagues do. In some states, like New Jersey and Pennsylvania, local organizations allow youngsters to start playing as early as two years of age in “round robin” types of short weekly clinics, developing skills and introducing ball handling and passing almost as soon as the little ones can run! Competitive play in those same areas can start as early as age three.
Here in Destin, there is a club league founded by locals for all area residents known as Real Athletic Development Football Club, or RAD FC. The difference between a recreational team and a club team is the level of competition as well as fees and travel associated with the requirements of the league. Whereas a local recreational team is funded in part by the host city/state government, club teams are individually and privately funded, have sponsorships and require monthly dues. Recreational clubs usually have volunteer coaches and parent-lead teams whereas club teams have paid professional coaches. Recreational teams play inner city or squad games while club or travel teams go to weekend tournaments in other regions for a higher level of competitive play. While recreational teams are open to everyone, some club teams accept only highly-skilled players for their travel team roster and hold their other players to “development” teams, or ones that will train and compete but in a lower-ranked bracket and usually at lower-profile tournaments. The advantage of being on a travel team is the added bonus of being on a regional, state and even nationally-ranked team. The competitive circuit has an ongoing ranking system that tracks each club, team and even athlete.
Being in operation for only two years, RAD FC has seen exponential growth in its competitive play. In its first season in the spring of 2012, RAD began with only 3 teams, doubled to 7 the following year and is now managing 15 teams for ages 8 through 18. Of the 15 RAD FC teams, 10 are currently ranked in the top 25, with 7 of those in the top 10.
RAD FC has seen an explosion in its locally hosted tournaments as well. The “Beat the Heat” tournament in the fall of 2013 attracted just over 65 regional club teams. “Battle by the Beach” this past March brought in nearly 100 teams and, according to facility host Morgan Sports Complex, an estimated three quarters of a million dollars was added to the local economy because of it.
The founder and president of RAD FC is Matt Oswald, father of five. He grew up in eastern Oklahoma where sports is as much a part of daily life as eating - especially with nine siblings! He moved to the Destin area in 1991. Four of his five children are currently playing and competing in the club. His eldest daughter, Brianna, was recently signed to a full soccer/academic scholarship for Jackson State. As Coach Matt puts it, “We want to promote quality athletes in a focused and specific way to prepare them for future play. Our desire is finding talent in each athlete and advancing that. Our goal is to elevate players through top trainers, giving them exposure and experience at the highest level possible.”
Vice President John Cross handles the radfc.com website, helps organize the tournaments and the camps and league tryouts, and is also a father, assistant coach and parent to a RAD athlete. Lead Coach Kelly Fernandez has three girls in the league and coaches two Gold (highest level) competition teams - U9 boys, currently ranked 7th, and U10 boys, currently ranked 5th overall of regional teams. She is also the head coach for Liza Jackson Preparatory School in Fort Walton Beach. Both John and Kelly were born and raised in the Destin area and are as local as they come. They have a passion for their community evident in their commitment to the athletes and parents of the RAD FC family. In the spring of 2013, Jose Fernandez, who has an extensive international and local soccer resume, was added to the RAD FC leadership team, taking on the role of Director of Club Operations. He credits the rapid expansion and success of the RAD FC teams and athletes to the quality of coaches and their training techniques. He states, “Having traveled around the southeast playing other top-ranked teams, I can say the quality of talent in our little area is very impressive. We can compete against the best and, win or lose, we continue to make a name for ourselves as a quality club with quality teams and coaches.”
Ezekiel “Zeke” Oswald and teammate David Martinez were selected from regional tryouts and recently spent a week in Madrid, Spain playing for the Team USA U11 Coerver Cup tournament. Coerver is a training academy that originated in England. “No one expected the American team to come to play Futbol,” says Shakira Oswald, Zeke’s father. “I mean, we’re Americans - we play soccer! But our boys defeated teams from Tunisia, Africa, Ireland, Spain, Madrid South, the professional league Rayo Vallencano and England. It was great! We lost 8-2 in the finals but finished overall in second place in the tournament!” Zeke and David play for the RAD FC U11 Boys Gold team and represented the USA, Destin and RAD.
Chris Vondenstein, tournament Field Marshal Coordinator, and his wife travel from Navarre several times a week so their son can play for RAD. “We joined RAD in the fall of 2012 because it seemed to be the best place for our son, Devin, to play at the time,” explains Chris. “He guest-played for RAD in the summer of 2012 and we were impressed with the quality of the players and coaches in the club. The team parents were also very welcoming and supportive. Shortly after Devin started playing with RAD full time, it was obvious to us that player development was the club's #1 priority and we really enjoyed the family atmosphere of everyone involved in the club. The weekly drive from Navarre to Destin is worth it; Devin is happy and has improved tremendously over the last 18 months. Signing with RAD was probably the best soccer decision we have made for Devin since he started playing at age 5.”
The United States Soccer Federation records a surge in soccer participation in the season and year following World Cup matches. This is a World Cup Summer. If there is going to be a surge in soccer participation, RAD FC is ready to take in new talent. It hosts two FREE player evaluations twice a year – before the Spring season in January and at the end of the Spring season in preparation for new team formation for the fall. The next evaluation dates are May 19th – 22nd at Morgan Sports Complex. Each summer there are also soccer camps available to everyone, any club, and all ages, whether a RAD FC family member or not.
RAD FC coaches and league family members fully represent the club motto: “For the kids. For the sport. For the community. That’s the RAD way.” To learn more about RAD FC please visit the website at www.radfc.com