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Greg Hansen: FC Tucson Youth soccer program 'not backing off' in midst of sports shutdown
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Greg Hansen: FC Tucson Youth soccer program 'not backing off' in midst of sports shutdown

If you want to understand the impact of COVID-19 in Tucson, drive to a soccer field. Two words come to mind: Nothing and nobody.

Or better, talk to Ted Schmidt, president of the board of the vast FC Tucson Youth soccer organization, one that has 2,000 young soccer players, about 70 coaches, and employs the two most visible coaches in Tucson soccer history, Dave Cosgrove and Wolfgang Weber.

FC Tucson Youth depends on the parents of thousands of young soccer players to pay about $155 a year, or more depending on their involvement. It strongly relies on title sponsorships from Chapman Automotive and Dias Management, a Tucson firm that operates a dozen McDonald’s restaurants.

Two weeks ago, Schmidt, Cosgrove, Weber and the TC Tucson Youth board gathered in the Kickin’ It Clubhouse at Brandi Fenton Park the same way a baseball player steps into the batter’s box with an 0-2 count against Nolan Ryan.

It didn’t look promising.

All of the soccer facilities in Tucson are closed. No soccer games are permitted. No face-to-face coaching is allowed. Financial resources are being challenged.

But Schmidt and his associates did not retreat. They chose not to put anyone on furlough, terminate any jobs or let their soccer players wait til next year.

“The most meaningful thing we try to teach to our kids is to meet challenges and rise above them,” said Schmidt, a Tucson attorney. “So we’re not backing off. We pay out about $100,000 a year in a pretty robust scholarship program to needy families, scholarships for kids whose kids couldn’t play otherwise. We are not about to let that go.”

At this time of year, FC Tucson Youth would train on scores of local soccer fields Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, and play games on Saturdays and Sundays. It is a year-round sport and it probably touches someone in your family or extended family.

“We have helped to place more than 600 of our kids on college scholarships, everywhere from Yale and Oklahoma to Washington and Arizona,” said Schmidt. “Twelve of the 14 who play on our senior girls team have already accepted college scholarships. There is too much at stake for us to shut down now.”

And so they won’t.

Instead, with continued support from its corporate sponsors, FC Tucson Youth created a program to keep 2,000 young soccer players engaged six days a week. It is impressive. It is potentially a bigger victory than any on a soccer pitch.

“What we’ve done is found a way to address some weakness, some things you sometimes don’t get to during the season,” said Cosgrove, the organization’s director of coaching and the national championship men’s soccer coach at Pima College. “Our plan is to keep this fresh and exciting.”

Here’s the new schedule for FC Tucson Youth:

Mondays: “It’s our update day,” said Schmidt. “We’ll discuss appropriate individual workout schedules, physical fitness and ask the kids to update us on what they’ve accomplished. We’ll be giving out awards — T-shirts, jackets, hoodies. It will be motivation day.” All will be done on social media.

Tuesdays: The 1,000 soccer players in the “recreation” program, be advised of what soccer movies, documentaries or online material they can view or read to educate them about the game. “We want our players to see the faces of our coaches,” said Schmidt.

Wednesdays: “Wednesday Night With the Stars.” Former FC Tucson players such as MSL veterans Luis Robles, Danny Toia, Oklahoma Sooners standout Madi Kinzler and ex-Pima College star Henry Brauner, head of the Seattle Sounders’ player development program, will talk electronically on skills and motivation.

Thursdays: FC Tucson Youth coaches will independently produce live videos on game strategies, with excerpts of game film from every level of soccer. The videos will be made available to all players. “We want this to be independent and local,” said Schmidt. “We are going to make sure the kids don’t think this was created in Chicago or somewhere.”

Fridays: In what is labeled “Fitness Fridays,” those such as Pima College athletic trainer Chris Murphy will give presentations on injury prevention and recovery, strength training and physical fitness.

Saturdays: Game Day. FC Tucson Youth’s staff will give electronic advice on nutrition, hydration, and the mentality of how to prepare for and properly rest after games.

“If this trickles into June, we’ll have to hit the drawing board to find something fresh and exciting to teach our kids,” said Cosgrove. “We’ll get their feedback and take it from there.”

Ordinarily, youth soccer players in Tucson play or train four to five days a week. Combined with schoolwork, their calendars are jammed. All of that has changed.

“Now we’ve got their attention,” said Schmidt. “They’re champing at the bit to get out and play soccer. We are going to try to teach them to be self-motivated, to work on techniques in their backyard, to practice the drills we will introduce electronically during the week.”

Schmidt and Cosgrove long ago reserved soccer fields to support their large operation. But when they’ll need those fields — June? July? Later? — remains uncertain.

“We’re rolling with the punches,” said Schmidt. “But we’ll be back.”

Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at 520-573-4362 or ghansen@tucson.com. On Twitter: @ghansen711

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