Major League Soccer camp teaches basics of game to area youth

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 19, 2006

NATCHEZ&8212;For two summers international soccer players have camped out in Natchez for a week to teach local youth a thing or two about the world&8217;s most popular game.

Not only do soccer players head to Natchez each year, but several hundred more former professional soccer players conduct camps in 44 states throughout the United States as part of Major League Soccer&8217;s efforts to promote the sport at a grass roots level.

For Natchez, soccer at the grass roots level means a group of approximately 30 children split between morning sessions, comprised of children ages 4-6, and afternoon sessions made up primarily of teens.

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While the ages of the participants vary, there remains one constant &8212; a love of soccer.

&8220;We&8217;re having a lot of fun,&8221; Madeline Jeansonne, a 16-year-old student of Cathedral High School, said. &8220;A lot of us haven&8217;t touched a ball since last season.&8221;

The majority of the camp&8217;s afternoon participants are students from Cathedral High School and members of the boys or girls&8217; soccer team.

&8220;Our coaches told us we needed to attend one of a couple different camps this summer,&8221; Megan Whittington, 17, and also a student from Cathedral said. &8220;This was the only one anywhere close to Natchez so as a result we have most of the team out here. It&8217;s nice because we are all together and it isn&8217;t like something too serious. We&8217;re all having a lot of fun with it.&8221;

The players are not the only ones enjoying themselves; the coaches are getting a kick out of it too.

John Gunn, from Scotland, has been involved with youth soccer for a number of years following his career in the professional ranks overseas as a member of Dunfermline Athletic in the United Kingdom.

&8220;I love it. The kids have been brilliant,&8221; Gunn said. &8220;It&8217;s different here, because the kids have a lot of different sports to play, whereas for the rest of the world, soccer is it. There is no baseball or basketball to compete with.&8221;

The competition is a big part of why the camps are geared to stress the importance of having fun, while learning the fundamentals.

&8220;We rarely comment when something is wrong,&8221; Gunn said. &8220;Instead of stopping practice when someone is doing something wrong, we stop practice when someone is doing something right.

&8220;We try to just let them enjoy the lighter side of soccer,&8221; Gunn said. &8220;Especially with the age that these kids are at, we want to leave them something lasting that they can enjoy for the rest of their lives. For us coaches, it&8217;s a way of passing on our love for the game.&8221;