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Soccer is a showcase for Lititz Tournament draws teams from nine states and Canada
JOHN CRAWFORD Record Express Correspondent
, Staff Writer
Bob Denney looked out over the pitch and watched a group of club soccer players in a friendly competition last Friday evening.
To the untrained eye, the game that featured a group of selected athletes from throughout the northeast United States and perhaps a few from Canada, seemed little more than a scrimmage. Denny, a recruiter/scout for Gwynedd-Mercy College, saw potential reveal itself in a player named Eric Smith.
"I liked (him) for a few reasons," said Denney. "First of all, he talks a lot. He’s giving his teammates really good information. He’s telling them where he is, where other team members are that are open and where to pass the ball. He is almost like having a coach out on the field."
Denney and Smith were among the thousands in town last weekend for the annual Lititz Summer Showcase, a tournament designed (in part) to help college recruiters find student-athletes for their programs.
"I have been coming out every year since Mike (Logan) set this up, and every year I have found players that I have not seen," said Denney. "The last couple of years, I have found at least two players."
The athlete Denney expects to be the top player in the 2013 incoming class was one he found in the Showcase.
"I first saw him in this tournament and this exact game. His name is Danny Saba and he is from Dallas (Pa.). He was down with his club team and I saw him play in this game and I was very impressed with him. I went home and looked at my notes and said, ‘Could I have been this impressed with this guy, was he really that good?’ I went out and saw him play two more times over the weekend and he was indeed that good. I went back to Gwynedd-Mercy and said ‘I found a great player.’"
The chance to find players efficiently was the ultimate goal when the Showcase began eight years ago, according to director Mike Logan.
"This started as just a soccer tournament," said Logan. "Everything from 9-year-olds to 19 years old. Even in that first year, we knew we wanted to create a college showcase to help local area players find their way into college and create a recruiting area. The first four or five years, it was just a tournament."
It used to be that college recruiters needed to know their targets prior to the tournament, or to wait for a prospect to arise through the club games. Since NCAA regulations restrict direct contact between recruiters and players in their senior years, coaches and recruiters were not always certain of a player’s intentions.
"A couple college coaches said that the toughest thing is watching 22 clubs play soccer," recalled Logan. "(What they were saying was), ‘I see some I like and I write them down and I am following them and watching them and after months of tracking them, I find out they don’t even want to play soccer in college.’ What we decided was that we were going to have a college ID game."
That college ID game is where Denney found Smith. It’s open to juniors and seniors of the upcoming school year.
Logan explained, "Each team sends their top players. They are selected by nomination and they get to come and play in these games. (The players) have to want to play in college and their coaches must nominate them as college level talent. They get a number and a color. We give that (information) to the college coaches before they even come here. Now, those coaches are watching 22 players they know want to play college."
The players are aware of the opportunity.
"I am looking to get attention from a college," said Charlie Colbert, who primarily plays wing for the host Lititz Youth Soccer Club. "I am going to be a junior and I would like to play for a university team."
Colbert felt good about his game against a higher level of competition.
"There were a lot of good players and the play was fast-paced," he said. "I thought I did well. I thought I started off a little shaky because I was a little nervous, but once I calmed down, it was OK."
Abigail Bomberger, also a junior, played in the game at the suggestion of her Lititz Fire coach.
"My club coach (Tim Snider) introduced this to me and he said it is a good opportunity to play with other people," she said.
Like Colbert, Bomberger had a similar goal in mind for the game.
"(My goal is) to get my name out here for coaches," she said. "I am keeping my options open. I definitely want to keep playing. I am not sure if I want to play for a club team in college or an actual college team."
Bomberger also used the game to assess herself.
"I can learn where my skills are and where I need to be and what I need to improve," she said.
After the ID game on Friday, Bomberger and the other college-bound players went back to their club teams to compete in the tournament age brackets. Overall, about 160 teams, numbering roughly 3,000 players from nine U.S. states and Canada participated in the Showcase. Each team played in a minimum of three games, all of which were located within Lititz.
Keeping the games in town and many of them close together on the high school and middle school campus enabled recruiters like Chris Ackerman of Elizabethtown College use their time efficiently.
"This will be my fourth year recruiting at the Lititz Showcase," he said. "It is a great venue. One thing that is nice is that, sometimes when you go to different tournaments, you have a field over there and over there. Here, you can just park and it is easy for the college coaches to go to all the different games. In fact, there are some fields where you can sit in the middle and watch two games at once. That’s huge because then we’re not walking."
"The pretzel sandwiches don’t hurt either," he added.
Ackerman noted that being in Lititz seemed to help enlarge the pool of talent.
"From talking to the parents up there, one of the big draws is the destination," he said. "It’s affordable … and you can do stuff in between. I think the destination has a lot to do with it."
Having the participants get into town is a goal for the tournament.
"It’s a huge boost to the economy," noted Logan. "Every hotel is sold out and most of the restaurants are completely filled most of the nights. The town stays open and people are walking the streets. It is very important to us to help Lititz with this, to make it a total community event."
Even the untrained eye can see the benefit in that.
More SOCCER, page A6