While the world waits in anticipation of Sunday’s’s World Cup final in Russia, the next generation of domestic soccer superstars are training on American soil.
The United States Men’s National Team had to sit on the sidelines for the first time since 1986 after failing to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. If that wasn’t enough motivation to improve, the United States was named a host of the 2026 Cup alongside neighbors Mexico and Canada.
If the United States men hope to follow in the US women’s footsteps, having won the most FIFA Women’s World Cup tournaments in history, it’s time to start looking to the youth.
One of the biggest supporters of the US Soccer youth movement in the area is Mount Airy soccer’s Will Hurley. Hurley and members of the Bears’ men’s and women’s soccer teams hosted their seventh annual Young Bears Soccer Camp for rising third- through ninth-graders at Mount Airy High School beginning July 9.
There were 32 kids of various ages that took part in the four-day camp. Hurley was especially proud of the numbers, considering the Bears were also hosting a volleyball camp this past week. Even with kids having to choose one camp or the other, both had quality turnouts.
“It’s exciting to see this many kids come out in 90-degree weather to play the game they love,” Hurley said. “We’ve had some good kids come through here at kids’ camp, and some of these guys from when I first started are now my counselors. It’s good to see all these kids come out.”
The kids broke into age groups in order to do drills, scrimmage, and focus on specialized training with Mount Airy’s soccer teams. The Bears’ men finished with a record 23 wins this past season and were the Western Regional runner-up, while the Lady Bears finished 12-9 in one of the state’s toughest conferences and reached the second round of the 1A state playoffs.
Surry County has come a long way in the world of soccer. Many community schools didn’t have a single soccer team. Now, each of the area high schools and middle schools have a boys’ and girls’ team. This past school year, all four boys’ teams and 3-of-4 girls’ teams made the playoffs.
“I think it’s helped Reeves Community Center, and I know it’s helped the middle school and us at the high school,” Hurley said. “It doesn’t hurt that the World Cup is going on right now. It seems to create more of a drive and get kids out there.”
The growth of youth soccer in Surry County is yielding positive results. Because kids are able to play at a challenging level from a young age, they are better prepared for middle and high school competition.
“This is by far the most skilled kids camp I’ve ever had,” Hurley said. “We’ve got younger kids that can kick it better than some of the kids I’ve had in high school.”
With the North American-hosted World Cup just eight years away, the talent that will lead the US to a deep run are likely just now teenagers. Who knows, maybe even some of the talented individuals from Surry County will represent their country on the pitch one day soon.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith