With America’s soccer awareness reaching a peak following the best showing by an American team in a World Cup since the inaugural cup in 1930, former Belen High School soccer players Paco Perez and Beto Sanchez wanted to take advantage of U.S. soccer fever. So the duo organized the Belen Youth Soccer Development Camp — a skills camp for local kids to try to stoke the soccer fire in the youngsters.
“We kind of took advantage of the World Cup fever,” Perez said. “The kids are watching the games, and they’re getting inspired by it, and we just want to keep that fever alive.”
Perez and Sanchez both played soccer at Belen High School, graduating in 2001, and have advanced to the next level, in the college ranks. Perez is at the University of Tampa in Florida, while Sanchez, who was an All-State goalkeeper in high school, is playing at Christian Heritage College in San Diego, Calif.
Perez and Sanchez also got some help from several other former teammates, as well as Pavlos Panagopoulos, who owns a Belen financial consulting business and played soccer at Mercer College.
The camp mainly focused on the basics of the game, such as shooting, passing, dribbling and trapping.
“We tried to focus on the basics and did some drills we did in high school to try to get the kids comfortable with the ball,” Perez said. “Every day, we started off with a Brazilian-style warm-up in honor of the World Cup champs.”
The coaches also shared some deeper knowledge of the game with the students, such as how to correctly celebrate after scoring a goal. The kids showed a lot of promise, stripping off their shirts and doing belly slides.
Besides having fun and learning some basic soccer drills, Perez said, the camp accomplished other goals. The former Eagles said they felt they were giving something back to the community, and they gained some experience as coaches and entrepreneurs.
“I was trying to get an internship for the summer with Pavlos, and he couldn’t get me a job,” said Perez, “so we came up with the idea to start this camp. It was a great experience. I got to give back to the community, and I got some experience in running a business for a few weeks.”
Perez and company got some help from the community in putting this camp together.
“Brenda Gurule at Belen Parks and Recreation got us the soccer balls and bug spray and water, which really helped out a lot,” Perez said. “A lot of people thought that $30 dollars was a lot of money, so next year we’re going to try to get some sponsors and run the camp for $10.”
The coaches are hoping to make this camp an annual event. Belen Youth Soccer Development camp — emphasis on “annual.”
“We’re hoping we will be back next year and maybe even more in years to come,” Perez said.