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Choosing between academy and prep soccer

The U.S. Soccer Development Academy is ruining high school soccer in California. Top players are abandoning high school programs for the so-called dream of becoming professional players, as if they can't do it through club programs outside their high school seasons.

It's only going to get worse now that the academy program is expanding to 10 months and will start in September.

Parents and athletes are being torn over which route to take: high school or academy.

Loyola's Henry Herrill was among those who faced that dilemma. His mother, Maryanne Herrill, sent me an email explaining what was at stake and offering an intriguing perspective.

"Henry was forced to make a difficult choice between his sophomore/junior year between playing for his high school (and in the off-season play for his Premier Club team) or participating in the Elite Academy league," she wrote. "My husband and I were told that if Henry did not choose to play at this higher level, he would never get any looks and would probably not have a shot to play in college.

"Henry was forced at a very young age to make a choice, a lousy choice. For my husband and I, it was a no-brainer. Henry was an AP/Honors student at Loyola. Playing Academy would impact his studies and since we both were collegiate athletes, we knew that in the long run he would achieve more through his academics over his soccer.

"Henry understood. When he started to talk with some of the Academy players, he learned about how they struggled academically. So he stuck with playing for his high school and his club .... and did not play Academy. Henry got noticed by colleges and had plenty of exposure playing on his Premier Club team.

"He did not need to miss school to travel to Academy games and best of all he got to play for his high school, which will no doubt be a wonderful memory. Playing in high school in front of your peers, your mentors, your teachers -- that is important and it is a shame that some kids are faced with the difficult choice.

"Parents get caught up in their kids' success and buy into the idle threats of what will happen if their kids don't play at the highest level. CIF and U.S. Soccer can't come to an agreement. High school soccer outside of California is in the fall, so there is no conflict with Academy play.

"Henry will be graduating from Loyola with a 4.3 GPA. He has a scholarship to play for Northwestern University next year (2011 Big 10 Champions) and best of all he got to experience high school soccer at Loyola High. (He got a bunch of awards in high school, but that is not the point!)

"I am writing you because I think parents of these elite athletes need to take a step back and evaluate what is important for their high school kid. Is it having the high school sports experience with friends and peers or is it for the purpose of landing a college offer? I want them to know that you can still play in high school and get collegiate exposure.

"It would be interesting to learn what percentage of these Academy players really do move on and go to four-year universities? I know they don't share the percentage of kids that quit (due to lack of play). The message/story is simple. Don't get sucked into the crazy elite academy/club world .... keep it real for your teenager and let them experience high school.

"Kids are choosing Academy over high school and often times it is to their detriment. I wanted to offer my perspective as a parent who just went through this."

-- Eric Sondheimer

 
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