Manitoba's top 48 youth soccer players will be moved to a single Winnipeg high school under an innovative new program designed to boost the skills of local players to national standards.
The elite players will enrol in Glenlawn Collegiate in September and will train daily year-round with the Manitoba Soccer Association to become potential members of Canada's national soccer teams.
It's a first for Winnipeg to turn a high school into an elite academy for team sports, but the concept may be extended to have other schools gather elite athletes in other team sports.
"We are quite excited about it," Louis Riel School Division superintendent Terry Borys said. "The partnership with Louis Riel School Division will see these young folks train each and every morning and then get to Glenlawn Collegiate to continue their day as students."
The MSA will announce the new regional training program in early April, but the school division has already approved the partnership.
The aim of the 48 boys and girls in grades 9 to 12 will be to make Canada's national soccer teams. The Canadian Soccer Association operates regional training centres across the country, but only Quebec has a similar model that brings all the players together in one school so they can train daily, said MSA technical director Rob Gale.
Gale said Manitoba's regional training centre has been working with young players twice a week, but will move to a daily program in September, using the new indoor soccer complex at the University of Manitoba and, when weather permits, Memorial West soccer pitch adjacent to Glenlawn Collegiate on Fermor Boulevard. Some out-of-town players will need to board, said Gale, but most live in Winnipeg.
"They need to get to U of M by 8 a.m." for two hours of daily training, he said. "We'll bus them to school."
Gale said that there are three student-athletes going into Grade 12 in September who will remain at their current schools, but the rest will move to Glenlawn.
The students' current schools may not be aware that the players are switching schools, he said. The elite soccer players are usually among their schools' top athletes and strongest students, Gale pointed out.
"The players will be multi-sport and great academically," Gale said.
The Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association is aware of the MSA program and is preparing a new policy that would not allow elite athletes in a sports academy to play for their high school team in that sport, said executive director Morris Glimcher.
The students would be eligible to play other sports for Glenlawn.
"This would be defined as a sports academy," said Glimcher. "It's something we'll have to deal with officially -- we don't have a policy about it yet. They certainly wouldn't be allowed to play high school soccer."
Glimcher said this may be the first in a series of elite high school sports academies in Winnipeg. There is a similar Basketball Canada program bringing national team candidates together at a Hamilton high school, Glimcher said, and other national sports bodies are considering similar ventures.
Vincent Massey Collegiate has specialized education programs for elite athletes in individual sports such as swimming and skiing, so that they can keep up with their schooling while they travel to compete.
Glimcher said some of the soccer students' current high schools may not be happy to lose them as students and as key athletes on varsity teams.
When Balmoral Hall School set up an elite girls' hockey team competing in the U.S., the private Winnipeg school drew students with exceptional hockey skills away from other high schools. "Some schools weren't happy about it," Glimcher said.
Gale said the MSA looked at other schools but Glenlawn was the best fit, especially with the soccer pitch and the short drive from U of M. Glenlawn's head of phys-ed, Russ Harder, is a provincial soccer coach, and principal Irene Nordheim has had a son in the regional training program, Gale said.
Centre trains players to make national teams
THE Manitoba Soccer Association's regional training centre program takes the best youth players from the club and provincial teams, and provides them with intensive training to improve their chances of making Canada's under-17, U-20 and senior national soccer teams.
Nine Manitobans are now in national programs, according to the MSA website:
"Alison Clarke and Anisha Kinnarath were selected to the U17 National Team. Erin McNulty and Desiree Scott played at the U20 Women's World Cup in 2007. Erin McNulty again played for Canada in 2009. Amy Harrison captained the U17 Women's team and played in the World Cup in New Zealand in 2009. Chelsea Stewart, from The Pas, also played in the U17 World Cup in New Zealand and this year made the U20 National Team. Amos Ganyea made the U16 Male National Team in the summer of 2007. Mujtaba Sharifi played for the U17 Male National Team in 2009 and Ezequiel Lubocki played for the U17 Male National Team in 2008 and in 2009 represented Canada in World Cup Qualifying matches."
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MSA executive director Hector Vergara, who will serve as an assistant referee at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, says on the MSA website:
"The number of players earning a spot in the National Team is a clear indication that Manitoba has talented players that with the right training, dedication and commitment can also excel on the national stage."
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The MSA explains the national training centre program in extensive detail at http://www.manitobasoccer.ca/prov_programs/national_train.html, and the regional training centre program at http://www.manitobasoccer.ca/prov_programs/region_train.html.