By RENALDO DORSETT
Tribune Sports Reporter
THE top student athletes in the country on the soccer pitch are preparing for an opportunity to showcase their skills and achieve higher education through the game.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology's Student-Athlete Resources and Support (STARS) programme will continue its mission in conjunction with the Bahamas Football Association and will host the second annual STARS College Soccer Showcase, February 20-22.
The event showcases local student athletes, both boys and girls, to coaches of local US and Canadian college programmes.
The showcase is open to students in the ninth through 12th grade and recent high school graduates.
Students can register now on ScholarshipsBahamas.com/soccer with a fee of $30 for the event.
In just its first year, the showcase boasted significant results. "The student athletes attending the showcase have a unique opportunity to become eligible for scholarships. During our first year we had six students receive over $200,000 worth of scholarships - some on the spot! Our goal this year is to have more students exposed to college level training and gain more athletic scholarships," says Jurelle Mullings, STARS programme administrator.
"There is opportunity to be had from attending. Even though there are eight coaches attending there are over 50 that have registered online that will attend via the livestream. The players just need to show up, show their talent and seize the moment. The opportunities are here."
In addition to showcasing their athletic talents, all participants will engage in a student-athlete informational session where they will be educated about the process of becoming a college student-athlete.
Students, parents and local coaches will also have the opportunity to network with the college coaches following the information session.
The event is open to all collegiate soccer coaches and will be attended by the soccer coaches of the Ministry of Education's partnering colleges and universities from the Bahamas, USA, and Canada.
This year's event will host over 40 scouts and coaches, eight of which will be in attendance while others will monitor the event virtually online.
In addition to the evaluation on the field, the programme will be geared toward preparing participants for life as a student athlete at the collegiate level.
The weekend of events begins 6:30pm tonight at the Breezes Resort with a women's symposium featuring keynote speaker Karina LeBlanc, head of women's football for CONCACAF.
Friday, February 21 - Student/Parent Info Session; Coaches Meet and Greet/ Welcome Reception 6:00pm Breezes Resort.
"This year we are very happy to include the women's symposium. We are more than happy to showcase Karina LeBlanc who will bring the charge for female student athletes. We will also have a number of panelists who will be making presentations.
"We are encouraging student athletes, particularly our young women, not just in soccer but also in other sports to hear the remarks being presented," said Carl Lynch, deputy general secretary in the Bahamas Football Association.
"The BFA jumped at the opportunity to jointly host the showcase because we have exceptional student athletes in this country and they deserve the chance to see how far they can push their athletic abilities and heights of their gifts. To receive a college education, particularly one that is partially or fully funded by a scholarship, can be life-changing. These soccer students would have earned a degree and set themselves up for success."
Friday will feature an information session for parents followed by networking opportunity.
"We will have a representative from the US Embassy who will talk about the student visa process, we will have a representative from a well-known Bahamian fitness company who will speak on the importance of preparing your body for the next level, we have a representative from the NCAA speaking about the eligibility process for student athletes coming from the Bahamas that want to play at the collegiate level," Mullings said.
Saturday, February 22, will feature the Skills Showcase Scouting and Evaluation by the college coaches.
The girls' session takes place 8am to 2pm and the boys session from 3pm to 9pm at the Roscow Davies Soccer Field.
The Bahamas Football Association (BFA) partnered with the STARS Programme to host the annual event because it understood the need to connect talented local athletes with colleges.
Said Dion Godet, UB Mingoes men's soccer coach: "We are very happy once again to have been extended an invite to what has been a very progressive programme," he said.
"For our student athletes we have always thought they had to go abroad, but the university has made a strong statement and strong commitment, allowing those who don't get the opportunity to travel to participate at home.
"We have been excelling. We were here last year and we will be back again. It's about developing tomorrow's youth and we certainly want to be a part of developing tomorrow's leaders."
CR Walker coach Kellon Lewis said: "Our athletes, last year was a tremendous experience for a lot of the players that participated. It is a great initiative to boost the level of soccer play in the Bahamas. It gives grassroots soccer players that drive to continue to develop their skills because they know opportunities are ahead if they continue to grow and get better."