This weekend marks the end of a long road for a group of Carroll County soccer players, many of whom I have had the privilege of coaching — either as head or assistant coach — for practically their entire soccer careers.
We have had many kids play with this group of players over the years and this group has gone to far off places to pursue their soccer dreams including Richmond, Atlantic City, and Manchester, England, where they had the opportunity to play on the training grounds of Manchester United against their youth team.
The team started off from a group of players that formed three K-1 teams at Carroll Indoor Sports Center, participated in the Westminster Wolves Soccer School later that year, then has gone through transitions from the Wolves to the Baltimore Bays and now to Baltimore Celtic, all while keeping up their high standard of play.
Several kids went away to try other programs, some of them tried the developmental academy route, and most played other sports in high school, but the core of this team that ends on the field this Sunday has stuck it out and played together for more than 12 years.
When we started out, we set out to be the best soccer team to come out of Carroll County and although I know there has been some great teams coming out of our recreation programs and it is tough to compare different eras, I would stack this group of young men against any and all that may lay stake to that claim. Over the years, this team has won dozens of tournament championships in fall, spring, and indoor soccer, at least a dozen league championships, went undefeated in the five games we played in England, and won five Maryland State Futsal Championships and been futsal regional finalists three times.
Most recently, these boys won the under-18 division of the MSYSA President’s Cup to close out their careers. (The regionals will be played while they will be in Ocean City for Senior Week, so we voted to skip the next round and a shot at the elusive regional title effectively closing down our team after the final league game.)
As the kids grew, our goals and objectives grew right along with them. When they were much younger, we played anyone and everyone, trying to find a game wherever we could. We played our own age group and we played against older kids. We combined with Lady Wolves players and played in co-ed leagues several years older than we were. We played in many tournaments and games throughout the year. In fact, in one year around U10 they played over 130 games over the course of one year, winning all but a handful of games during that span.
We next wanted to make sure that every player was ready and took on a contributing role with their high school teams. We changed the focus of our training and the tournaments, leagues and games in which we found ourselves. We prepared them for the “fast and furious” style of play preferred by many high school coaches and necessary to compete at the high school level. This was rewarded when every kid made their high school JV teams as freshmen (a few made varsity) and this year’s all-county and all-conference teams were littered with the names of these graduating seniors.
From the time we started the team, every one of us as parents and the kids themselves envisioned all of these boys having their own collegiate signing days, complete with a four-year commitment to a college of their choice to play the game they loved so much.
Somewhere along the way, something else happened to this group of boys. Some would call it burnout, and you wouldn’t think they’d be too far off with the amount of soccer we’ve played. What I’ve seen out of these boys I prefer to call maturity.
Only a handful of the boys that started with us originally or picked up along the way are taking their game to the next level and playing in college. Some are playing other sports in college but most are looking forward to a college experience void of the high pressured world of youth sports. They have chosen schools that will challenge them academically and help provide them with the necessary knowledge and skill set to carry in to their next ventures after their education is finally complete.
They might play club or intramural soccer, or they might not.
What I’m looking forward to is watching these men develop over the next few years as my older players have done. I’ve been just as proud to watch my former players graduating with college degrees as doctors, physician’s assistants, digital marketing specialists, and even starting their own families with future Wolves.
There’s not much more reward you can get than to see the success of someone you’ve coached along the way as they grow in to adulthood.
American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”
Now it’s time for them to forge their own ways.