With enrollment numbers heading in the wrong direction, Mt. Slesse middle school is taking a bold step to reverse the trend.
The school has gained approval for a soccer skills academy that would be run with the help of Chilliwack FC.
Running all the way through the school year, the format will have students mixing on-field training with soccer related classroom instruction.
Students will get a physical education credit for completing the course, but Mt. Slesse principal Dan Heisler hopes they’ll get so much more out of it.
“Having kids connected to the school is very important, and those kids who are connected through our drama productions, our shop areas or athletic programs seem to perform better academically,” he said. “They feel that connection, and the academy is one more opportunity for them to be engaged and involved and feel like they’re contributing to our school community.”
Year one of the academy will be something of a pilot year, fine-tuning the curriculum and format with a smaller group of in-house students.
The initial group will have between 25-30 registrants, all of them Mt. Slesse students.
“Our plan is to implement it slowly and do a very good job with the small numbers before opening it up to the district the following year,” Heisler said. “Knowing the current students we have and the students we have coming into Grade 7 next year, we should have no trouble filling the class.”
Chilliwack FC head coach Glenn Wilson will be the guiding force behind the program, developing curriculum that will not only develop the students as soccer players, but increase their understanding of the game.
“I like to see youngsters who graduate from our club give back through coaching or officiating,” Wilson said. “Over the course of the year, we’ll be able to implement a program that gives these kids their basic level for refereeing, which will let them come back and officiate our mini-ball and spring soccer kids.”
The B.C. Soccer Association offers many coaching courses, the most basic being the Community Coach Child certificate.
“That lets them coach children up to the age of eight, and I think we’ll be able to implement something that has them, at the end of the year, leaving with a very basic coaching certificate,” Wilson said. “In the two or three years they might be involved in this program, we’d like to nurture in them a desire to give back and get involved.”
CFC has tried this once previously with Chilliwack middle school, an attempt that ultimately failed due to low enrollment. Wilson feels Mt. Slesse should be a much better fit.
“The catchment area and knowing where a lot of our rep players come from, I think this is a perfect location,” Wilson said. “The school has done a great job researching academies and setting the table for the program.”
CFC has added tons of programs in recent years, earning a reputation as an association fully dedicated to developing high-end players.
Already offering a full slate of internal academies, Wilson called this the next logical step in CFC’s evolution.
“Building a soccer culture within the schools I think is the next step for us,” he noted. “They say the ideal training-to-game ratio is three or four to one. So, if kids are getting a couple practices with their club teams and a couple school sessions, they’re hitting that mark.”
While Wilson will be around for several on-field sessions, he’ll leave much of the coaching in the capable hands of James Marshall, a Scottish import with a vast amount of soccer knowledge.
“I do want to be around the program, monitor it and make sure we’re doing the right things, but I won’t be there the entire time,” Wilson said.
Back to logistics, students will be expected to maintain certain standards to remain in the academy.
Mt. Slesse’s Carolyn Morrison will be the soccer academy teacher, charged with making sure those academic and behaviour standards are met.
“We’re not saying they have to maintain an A average because we know that kids come with different abilities,” Heisler said of the academic expectations. “What we’ll be looking at are work habits, paying attention in class and staying on top of homework and assignments.”
Mt. Slesse’s soccer pitch got an expensive makeover last year, and now ranks as one of the nicer fields in the district.
But the Townsend Park turf field(s) will play a role in the academy, particularly during the early fall.
“Mostly through November, December and January, and if we encounter snow we’ll probably end up in the Landing Leisure Centre for some indoor stuff,” Heisler elaborated. “Through the better weather we certainly want to take advantage of our sand-base field.”
The Chilliwack School District will provide bus transportation to and from the training venues, with the cost covered by the tuition fee, which will be $600 per year.
Students will participate in approximately 80 on-field sessions (70 minutes) and six classroom sessions during the school year.
An information meeting will be held on Wednesday, 7 p.m. at Mt. Slesse for anyone with questions about the program.