By RENALDO DORSETT
Tribune Sports Reporter
THE Ministry of Education, Science and Technology’s Student-Athlete Resources and Support (STARS) programme and the Bahamas Football Association hosted their second annual STARS College Soccer Showcase featuring over 100 of the top student athletes on the pitch.
The event showcases local student athletes, both boys and girls, to coaches of local US and Canadian college programmes and prepares them to take advantage of scholarship opportunities and further their development in the sport.
The inaugural event in 2019 featured 70 participants and that number grew to 101 this year.
“The BFA is definitely making strides in the right direction, and the STARS programme is definitely making an impact by creating a college-going culture for student-athletes,”
Said Jurelle Mullings-Nairn, STARS programme administrator: “Athletes came here and wanted to take advantage of the opportunities and they did.”
Mullings-Nairn added that she was impressed at how much the showcase has grown and she looks forward to it expanding more in the years to come.
The event was attended by the soccer coaches of the Ministry of Education’s partnering colleges and universities from the Bahamas, USA, and Canada.
It featured over 40 scouts and coaches, five of which were in attendance while others will monitor the event virtually online.
Visiting programmes included Holland College in Charlottetown, PEI, Canada; Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia; Dodge City Community College in Dodge City, Kansas; Richard Bland College in South Prince George, Virginia; and Southern University in Baker, Louisiana.
Players were drilled in fundamentals and played in various scrimmages to exhibit their skillset.
“I saw a lot of hard work, a lot of respect, and everyone was trying hard,” said Holland’s coach Brandon Eagle. “First impressions were very high and that is great because that is all you can ask for when you come to these events. You get to see these players in a short amount of time, you get to see them working hard and showing you everything that they have. Information has been shared and definitely some connections have been made. We’ll be reaching out over the next couple days and hopefully if everything works out, we would be having a couple of these players on our roster next year.”
Dodge College men’s head coach Oscar Zeleya said before the boys’ session that he heard that there are fast players here and was eager to see them in action.
“Fast kids. That is pretty much what we are looking for - some kids who are fast and can move the ball well,” said Zeleya.
He said he came looking for a centre midfielder or a central defender, but in a junior college he said things change quickly, so he is looking at every position in case something else opens up.
Head coach of Richard Bland’s men and women’s soccer teams Damien Westfield said he was impressed with the girls’ athleticism.
“That is something you don’t always find in the US,” he said. “You don’t always find players who are technically sound and athletic so it is very good to see some here. As a coach, we can see whether or not we can help them develop technically.”
Westfield said he has his eyes set on a few players who he believes would be beneficial to his programme. “There were some players that we shared our contact information with, and hopefully we will take the information back to the admissions department and see how best we can get them to apply and get accepted,” said Bland.
In addition to the evaluation on the field, the programme was also geared toward preparing participants for life as a student athlete at the collegiate level. Participants attended informational sessions where they were educated about the process of becoming a college student-athlete. Students, parents and local coaches also had the opportunity to network with the college coaches following the sessions.
The weekend of events began with a Women’s Symposium featuring keynote speaker Karina LeBlanc, head of women’s football for CONCACAF.
The following night featured the student/parent info session, coaches meet and greet/welcome reception.
BFA vice president Andre Moss said the country’s development programme for young women continues to trend in the right direction.
“We had a symposium on Thursday where my boss Karina LeBlanc was down as a guest speaker, and she helped to dispel a lot of the myths that parents may have about soccer,” said Moss. “We are starting now to get the message out there. We are providing more opportunities to showcase our girls, and let parents know that if they are looking for an opportunity for their children to develop in a nice, wholesome, clean, fun sport - with opportunities to go off to college - soccer is a viable option.”
Last year, seven local athletes were awarded scholarships to play soccer in different colleges abroad. They were McKell Yallop, Rashawn Hamilton, Savanna Rolle, Laurann Brown, India Davis, Tyra McKenzie and Tevin Lewis.
According to its mission statement, the STARS programme aims to provide Bahamian high school student-athletes with the tools they need to extend their educational and athletic experience beyond high school, to the collegiate level and beyond while empowering them to become strong leaders in and out of the classroom and on and off the playing field, and helping them successfully integrate into society as responsible citizens. “In 2019, 14 high school student-athletes from our programme that participated in various sporting genres from schools throughout Nassau and Grand Bahama, were recipients of a combination of athletic, academic, and Ministry of Education awards,” Mullings said.
She noted that these students now serve as mentors of the STARS programme and are excelling both in the classroom and on the playing field, averaging a cumulative GPA of 3.54.