Sergio Gil, From Berryville to the spotlight.

What happens when a 17 year old coach from a rural community in Arkansas gets a chance to travel half way across the country and meet coaches from half way around the world?


       "Coach, I'm scared," said the big, strapping 17-year-old.
       He's the top-scoring kid on his high school soccer squad. He's the coach of a fun bunch of 11-year-olds who are turning competitive/classic this fall.
       Last year in Kansas City, he was one of our young presenters front and center in the main arena at the municipal auditorium in a Friday morning session of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America -- and effectively showed attendees how kids like himself use soccer to teach other kids to stay away from tobacco.
       He's Sergio Gil.
       He's a big ox of a high school junior who will be a senior in the fall. He has a mustache and occasionally grows a sparse goatee.
       And he's scared?
       Of what?
       Of flying to Washington, D.C., on Saturday where he will be one of 14 young soccer coaches nationwide receiving Chris Nedelcovych Memorial Scholarships to the Maryland State Youth Soccer Association's International Week Program.
       There Sergio and the other scholarship recipients will participate in the Youth Residential Coaching Camp. His airfare, lodging and tuition will be paid by the Chris Nedelcovych Soccer Foundation for Youth Soccer Coaches.
       So, what's to be scared of?
       I mean, this kid has faced off against the toughest of opponents. He was part of our legendary Psyclones all-star Under-12 recreational team that won Arkansas' American Cup several years ago.
       He has helped shape our Arkansas Tobacco-Free Athletes scholarship program.
       So, why should he be scared?
       After all, Mima Nedelcovych, himself, foundation president and father of the late Chris Nedelcovych is going to pick Sergio up at Washington's Ronald Reagan National Airport and spend Saturday showing him the capital.  
       Then Sunday, Sergio will check into St. James School, an exclusive boarding preparatory school near Hagerstown, Maryland, and meet the other young coaches chosen in a nationwide competition that was open to coaches age 17-21 who coach younger players.
       What's to be scared of?
       "I've never been on an airplane," confessed Sergio today at our Smoke-Free day camp for 7-to-11-year-olds. "What if some crazy guy wants to crash it into a skyscraper?"
       He was only half-kidding.
       "Well, then we all get to go on TV and say what a great guy you were and I'll write a book about you and Jose here will become an international star when he plays you in the movie."
       Jose Ramirez, grinned enviously next to his best bud. "Yeah, I'll go on the Letterman Show and say, 'Oh, poor, poor Sergio, I hope he didn't suffer too bad."
       "I'm serious," said Sergio. "What if I get on the wrong plane or miss it or something?"
       He's connecting at Chicago O'Hare.
       "Oh, Chicago," I hedged, "everything is really simple and it's no big deal. You get off your plane and go up to the first person you see in an airline uniform and tell them you don't know where your gate is. They will help you. That's their job."
       He looked doubtful.
       Sergio will receive one-on-one instruction by European soccer star Alex Pastoor of the Netherlands. 
       "This is one of soccer's finest experiences for young coaches," says Maryland soccer official Larry Paul, "the coaching candidates receive the benefit of instruction from a world-renowned youth coach and some of the most experienced members of the MSYSA's Education and Training Staff."
       The Chris Nedelcovych Soccer Foundation for Youth Soccer Coaches was established to assist and encourage young people who love soccer and want to teach the game to younger players. Chris, a high schooler who coached younger kids and wrote about how much he enjoyed the experience, died in a tragic car crash. His legacy lives on in the annual scholarship for the nation's top youngsters who also enjoy coaching soccer.
       "I may chicken out," said Sergio.
       "What if we drive you up to Springfield and help you get on the plane?" I suggested. "The only thing you have to worry about is changing planes in Chicago and I'll get the ticket agent in Springfield to give us a map of the terminal and show you exactly where to go."
       "Yeah, we'll go hold your hand," said Jose. "Tell them to take care of our baby."
       Sergio squinted daggers at Jose.
       Jose much prefers playing to coaching. He's tried his hand at coaching, but doesn't have the ability Sergio has demonstrated to capture the kids' imaginations and get them to play with all their hearts.
       So, even though Jose is a great kid, we didn't nominate him along with Sergio.
       I wish we had.
       As it is, I may have to buy a ticket to O'Hare to make sure Sergio gets on the right flight to Washington.
       "Listen," I told him and our other eavesdropping youth coaches, Emilio and Kiko, who were both too young for us to nominate. "You don't know how important this is. We are depending on you guys to bring up the level of coaching around here."
       They squinted at me skeptically.
       "We didn't have top level coaches for you when you were little," I said. "You somehow managed. We all tried to give you the best. And look how you turned out. But, just think what it's going to be like in the next two or three years when our little guys have coaches like you who really know what they are doing."
       I've got a NSCAA National Youth diploma and a USYSA "E" and have been coaching since 1972 -- the top credentials in our county, well, maybe except for Mike Smith who heads up our local program in Eureka Springs, and who played in England as a kid or maybe Tom Souden, who heads up the Berryville program and played in Europe while in the U.S. military.
       Imagine trying to build a top caliber soccer program with the likes of us.
       Our future is with Sergio and Kiko and Emilio and 28-year-old Eddy Reyes, who coaches a fun Under-8 team here as well as the Berryville high school boys, and who recently got his USSF "C" license and played 2nd Division pro soccer in Guatemala.
       Eddy is mentoring these guys. He's also running the day camp.
       "You're going to have a great time, man," he told Sergio. "You're going to come back with all sorts of ideas of how to make practice more fun. You're going to teach us everything you learn."
       Sergio grinned.
       Then, seriously, he nodded, looking at the ground.
       "You're our future, Sergio," said Eddy.

Rob Kerby