Heartland Soccer Association Awards Gala set for February

Heartland Soccer Association will cap off another successful year with an awards banquet on February 3 at the Museum at Prairie Fire.

The Second Annual Awards Gala will start at 7 p.m. with more than 300 people expected to attend.

Last year’s banquet was a rousing success and tickets are expected to sell quickly for this year’s event.

“People were really honored (last year),” said Heartland Soccer Special Events Manager Wendy Reyes. “Everybody was excited to get together outside of soccer games. We expected 70 people and we ended up selling out.”

Tickets for the kid-friendly event are $35, which includes the ticket price and a meal. There will be a cash bar and a raffle.

“It’s a community event,” Reyes said. “It’s an opportunity to socialize. It’s wonderful.”

Tickets for the event can be purchased through Heartland’s website: heartlandsoccer.net.

Among the awards presented, along with the Kansas City Soccer Association, will be Club Administrator of the Year, Girls and Boys Coaches of the Year, Heartland Soccer Hall of Fame Individual, Heartland Soccer Hall of Fame Player, and a Special Individual Recognition Award.

Melanie Davies will receive the latter award for her work with Jambars, a Lawrence club which emphasizes positive soccer experiences for players and parents.

“It’s the coaching,” Davies said of what helps Jambars stand out. “(Director of Coaching) Oumar Seck really just wanted to change how we provide soccer, how we talk about it, what we want kids to do and believe. It’s about the training and playing the game and loving the game and opening your heart to the game.”

The club was created three years ago and is already having a noticeable effect for beginning soccer players.

“Our younger boys and girls are really buying into the philosophy of really putting your heart into the game, doing your best and trying in practice,” said Davies, who serves as Jambars Registrar, among other duties. “It’s going to take a while and it’s going to be something that happens, but you do have to be very patient.”

She got involved in soccer as her boys began playing — her oldest is now playing college soccer — and Seck was their coach.

“Oumar is the one they feel has influenced them the most,” Davies said. “He’s a person that makes you want to be a better person, especially in the world of soccer.”

She also credits Jambar’s success to Club Director Joe Comparito, who she describes as “the business mind to go with Seck’s soccer mind,” and to the organizational skill of Heartland.

“Heartland Soccer is pretty amazing when you think about how large they are and how many programs they provide for the greater Kansas City area,” Davies said. “The tournaments, the leagues, the referees, you name it. Their staff is amazing.”

For more information about Jambar, visit jambarsfc.gotsport.com

KC Legends coaches Matt Iverson and Pat Ozburn will receive the Heartland Soccer Girls and Boys Coach of the Year Awards.

Ozburn, who works for Happy Feet training very young soccer players, grew up playing soccer and has coached 20 years.

“I’ve always loved the game,” Ozburn said.

His oldest child plays soccer at Avila and another child has finished at Shawnee Mission South and “is deciding where to go next.”

Heartland’s award is meaningful recognition for Ozburn who recently had another fulfilling experience.

“We were out to dinner and somebody (approached and) said that I coached him 18 years ago,” he said. “He now has a kid who was his age when I coached him and he said he would love to have me mentor and train him the same as I did 18 years ago. I thought ‘that’s quite an honor.’ He remembered nothing about the games, but remembered the life lessons he learned along the way, and he’s applying those to his kid.

“That’s why we do this. We leave a lasting legacy, and it took 20 years for me to figure that out. It was unbelievable. It was the most satisfying payout, more than a result or win, probably the biggest award I’ve ever had in coaching.”

John Duker of Kansas City Soccer Club will receive the Heartland Soccer Hall of Fame Individual Award. Duker was 12 when came to the United States with his family, from Ghana.

“What helped me acclimate to the United States was really soccer,” he said. “The game is the same everywhere. That was the only thing that related to me, the game of soccer. Now I’m in a completely different country, coming to somewhere that was not familiar. The only thing I was able to do was to play the game.”

Heartland Soccer gave Duker a place to play where he blossomed and he eventually moved on to play at Missouri State before returning to work with Kansas Premier Soccer League. In 2006 he began Kansas City Soccer Club, and he also sits on the board of the Kansas District I Commission.

“When we moved to Lee’s Summit, there weren’t many kids who played soccer,” he said. “Heartland was the only league I played in.”

While soccer is played extensively elsewhere, Duker is still surprised by its explosive growth in America.

“I never imagined soccer would be like this,” he said. “I grew up in Lee’s Summit and it didn’t have a competitive league. I drove 45 minutes on the backroads to Heritage to play and I never thought that the game would be played like it is here. (Then) there were three boys teams, maybe four or five clubs that were playing at the time. Now there are 30 or 40 clubs and Lee’s Summit has three clubs, big clubs.

“When I first moved here there wasn’t even a competitive team. Now every field is filled every weekend, every parking lot. All the tournaments are filled. We don’t have to travel as much. We’ve got a pro team that sells out every game. We’ve got a fan base that’s one of the best in the MLS.”

For Duker, the award helps him feel a connection to the sport he loves.

“It means a lot to be a part of an association that has been one of the fastest growing in the world and one of the biggest in the country,” he said. “Heartland Soccer is helping the game grow and really try to do things for the betterment of the game. It means a lot to me that other people have recognized the amount of time and effort that somebody has put in, as a player, a coach, administrator, volunteer… all of those things haven’t gone unnoticed. I’m being recognized for that and it’s very much appreciated.

“I come from a poor country where the game unites a lot of people. No matter where you are, rich or poor, it’s a game that brings people together and I hope that my work within Heartland Soccer Association, with my playing in the league, my coaching, my volunteering, that people have seen that my goal is to continue to bring kids from all over Kansas City metro together and give everybody a place that’s safe to play and to be a part of it.”

Carol Stovall will receive a Heartland Soccer award for Club Administrator of the Year. Stovall started coaching soccer at Happy Feet, then began helping in the KC Legends office, a job which evolved into her position as administrator.

“I think all administrators are kind of not in the limelight,” she said. ”The administrators do a lot of work for all the clubs, kind of behind the scenes. Luckily, we have Heartland and KPSL, and they do a very good job with organization. They have very organized people leading them. That helps out a lot. I think it’s one of those things with administrators, we have so many things to keep organized. We’re just kind of the mother of the office trying to help everybody stay organized.”

Stovall describes the challenging scale of meeting deadlines and handling paperwork as she “cards” approximately 1,300 players on 85 competitive teams.

“The deadlines are all at once,” she said. “Trying to get registered, carding everyone, it all comes in waves. And customer service; you have to communicate well with parents and coaches and everyone else.

“You want them to be able to play. It’s definitely satisfying. You work hard and it’s nice, just from behind the scenes to have other people realize you do a good job.”

She enjoys working with Heartland Soccer.

“It’s a really good organization,” Stovall said. “I like all the people who work over there. It’s a very easy group to work with. All of them over there are great. They’re very organized. They do a great job.”

For more information on the Heartland Soccer Association, visit heartlandsoccer.net

For more youth soccer coverage visit http://kcsportspaper.com/category/youth-sports/youth-soccer/

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Article by Marc Bowman

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