Nealis brothers have the right idea but does anybody care?
The Sierra Soccer Academy and its co-founders, Jim and Sean Nealis, figured the timing couldn’t be better for their summer camps, the first of three which start on Monday at Carson Middle School.
No, not because the largest sporting event on the globe, the World Cup, is being played this summer. And, no, not because the United States can clinch a second-round berth with a win against South Korea on Monday, just five days after the team’s 3-2 win over Portugal, our country’s biggest win in over 50 years.
One would think the excitement generated by the U.S. team on the world’s biggest stage would naturally generate more interest for soccer in the area and, in turn, force parents to register little Johnny and Susie for the camps.
“No, we really didn’t think that,” said Jim Nealis, who, in his first season as Carson High’s varsity boys coach this past season, led the Senators to a second-place finish in the Sierra League. “I mean, the (World Cup) games are on so late. We didn’t think that would affect us too much. It’s our first year and we’ve got long term goals. And something like this, when you’re first starting out, goes by word of mouth.”
The local soccer community, in particular those who side with the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), might not like the Sierra Soccer Academy’s long-term goals. But they are necessary.
“AYSO is the most organized right now but I think to be competitive and advance (in soccer), you need to play at a certain level,” Nealis said. “It’s nice that everyone gets to play but that’s not going to get it done. I think the coaches here have good intentions but we need quality coaches at the youth level who have the right vision.”
And that’s why the Sierra Soccer Academy was formed at the right time, not because of when it was formed, but how it plans to change soccer in the region. Jim feels soccer in Northern Nevada, the brand that will get kids to the highest level, is non existent. Big words considering only 17 kids are registered for next week’s camp, and only a few others signed up for more than one week.
“We’d have the camp even it was two kids,” said Jim Nealis, who expects more kids to arrive on Monday for same-day registration.”
Now those are big words. It doesn’t matter how many kids sign up because the ones that do are setting the soccer standard Jim and Sean want for Northern Nevada. It won’t happen overnight and it will be quite an uphill battle, as most things relating to soccer in this country usually are. But the numbers are there to support their goals.
According to a Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association study, 7.25 million kids in this country between the ages of 6-17 play soccer, compared with 4.75 million who play baseball. But it’s after the age of 17 when things go wrong for soccer. It’s then the most athletically talented kids choose to play baseball, basketball and football, sports with promising financial futures.
This is the big picture, of course. Northern Nevada soccer can’t be concerned with issues on the national level because it can’t compete on a national level–yet.
“We want to produce athletes who can play soccer. I think we (Northern Nevada) have the athletes but not the soccer players,” Jim Nealis said. “It’s a matter of exposure. The biggest thing is we’re so isolated here.”
Playing the best players in the country, on the best teams in the country, in the best tournaments in the country is the only way to get exposed. Olympic Development Program and club soccer is where it starts, not AYSO.
“It’s nice to go to Reno to play in tournaments and ones here, but that’s not going to cut it,” Jim said.
For now, though, the Nealis brothers just want people to understand what they’re trying to do. They don’t have any firm plans to start youth club teams, simply because there are too many barriers to break immediately. But it will happen, they said.
“If we had some interest right now (to start a club team), we’d jump on it right away. We’d start tomorrow,” Jim Nealis said. “Eventually, we want to get guys from Reno, Sparks and Tahoe. But we know it’s going to take time.”
For more information on this summer’s camps, please contact Jim at (775) 586-8248 or 225-1135.
Jeremy Evans is a Nevada Appeal sportswriter