Last April two soccer parents, Jim Johnston and Curt Sparrow, who knew all too well the cost of a university education, had an idea. They would create an elite team of under-17 girls, who would compete with other young women for American university scholarships.
The idea was simple. Present the idea to the five premier soccer clubs in Winnipeg (FC Northwest, Bonivital, Portage Trail, South End United and Phoenix) and the Manitoba Soccer Association, assuring them that these young women would not be taken away from their clubs, but instead continue to play with them.
Surprisingly enough, the five clubs and the MSA gave their blessings, and the Manitoba Blizzard was formed as a pilot project exclusively to showcase athletes going into their Grade 11 year at college tournaments, where they will be seen by college scouts and coaches, in hopes of accessing a scholarship that may be otherwise be unattainable.
These tournaments, as the team's head coach Jim Zinko points out, have no winners or losers. The teams play three tourneys in front of the invited coaches and scouts, and then head home.
The team's first such tournament is Dec. 3-5 when the Blizzard heads to Raleigh, N.C., for the CASL College Showcase.
Next it's Faribault, Minn., Jan. 28-30, where they will play at the Shattuck Junior Showcase, and the biggest one of all, the Lass Vegas College Showcase, is scheduled for March 11-13.
In a letter to prospective team sponsors, team manager Jim Johnston explained, "The tournament in Raleigh is being held in conjunction with the NCAA Division 1 Women's Final Four soccer weekend and will be scouted by over 300 coaches from across North America. Las Vegas is one of the highest rated Premier Elite level tournaments in North America and is scouted by almost 400 college recruiters. Tournaments of this calibre provide the best opportunity for these student athletes to be recognized."
Megan Johnston, who plays club soccer with Jabronis, says although the team is made up of players from all the top clubs, they don't have any problems playing together. "We've been together for five years now (provincial team), so we know each other, and play together well. When we work together, we can show off each others' skills."
Johnston says she's been speaking with North Dakota State University, and hopes their three tournaments will convince NDSU that she is worthy of a scholarship. "Their school seems really appropriate for what I want."