Sunday, June 25, 2006
RIVIERA BEACH — Robert Turner, 11, and Quaearius Miller, 9, of Riviera Beach don't have much soccer experience yet.
But if Bobby Lennon's experimental program succeeds the two youngsters will one day be strong soccer players.
"Those two are like sponges. They soak up everything you say," Lennon said. "They want strong male role models. They want to do well to please you as a coach."
Lennon is the director of the Palm Beach Pumas Soccer Academy, which is in its second year of expanding its youth outreach program to serve players in underprivileged areas around the county.
This summer, the Pumas are teaching one soccer session a week at 30 centers around the county, which are funded by Prime Time Palm Beach County Inc., part of the Children's Services Council of Palm Beach County. The goal is to provide instruction in various disciplines — such as soccer — that the children normally wouldn't be able to afford.
Turner and Miller both attend the program at the St. George's Center in Riviera Beach, an out-of-school program established at St. George's Episcopal Church. This is the second summer during which the Pumas have taught soccer at St. George's, and they were enthusiastically welcomed back by program director Hyacinthia Becton.
"We asked the kids which programs they wanted back and the majority of kids enjoy the soccer," Becton said. "It's very organized. It's very structured. They feel they are learning something and get a sense of accomplishment."
The Pumas are planning an even more ambitious program for this school year. Lennon expects to start a youth soccer academy to include 40 boys and 40 girls in each age group from under-6 to under-12 that have a talent and/or a passion for the game.
Lennon and his staff are identifying many of the players — and doing the necessary paperwork such as parental consents — from the summer programs the Pumas are currently involved in, but the program will be open to all who are interested. So far, Park Ave. BBQ, Earl Stewart Toyota and Centex Homes have agreed to help sponsor the program, but other sponsors are being sought.
“I’m going to have to change my behavior,” Turner admitted.
“I’m going to listen to all my teachers,” Miller added.
Becton said it is not surprising that the opportunity to participate on an athletic team could help motivate youngsters that might be much harder to reach otherwise.
"When coaches are involved with the students, it is very different," she said. "The kids can be very disciplined when it comes to the game and the coach can make it much easier for the staff."
The Pumas are staffing their summer programs with college-age players who have come from around the country to train and compete on the Pumas' Premier Development League team.
One such player is Joe McGuire, 21, who will transfer this fall to Florida Southern College after spending two years at Martin Methodist College in Tennessee.
"I'm loving it," McGuire said. "It's great to continuously play. It helps you with fitness and touch. I also get a kick out of working with the kids."
Lennon has several reasons for why he is putting this youth outreach program together.
"Soccer is a middle- to upper-class sport in this country," he said. "We need to develop more players like Eddie Johnson, who is on the U.S. team and is from the projects in Daytona Beach. Eddie learned the sport when a neighbor started a rec program.
"I'm also at the point in my life when it's time to give back," continued the 43-year-old Lennon, who grew up in Fairfax, Va. "Playing soccer as a kid was a relief for me. My coaches were very positive adult figures."
To contact the Palm Beach Pumas, call (561) 385-2356.