During a typical fall, FC Frederick soccer club offers minimal activities for high school-aged players because they are busy competing for local schools.
For instance, players might engage in some light training with the club.
But this fall is far from typical. Like local athletes in every other fall sport, Frederick County Public Schools soccer players saw their chances to play during the first semester of the 2020-21 school year vanish when the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association postponed fall and winter sports to the second semester in early 2021.
The MPSSAA postponed fall sports such as soccer to early 2021, with practices slated to begin on March 15 and the competition season running from April 5 to May 8.
To help fill the unprecedented void during the autumn, local organizations like FC Frederick and Frederick Indoor Sports Center are providing high school-aged soccer players with opportunities to play matches, train and navigate a college recruiting process that has been muddled by the pandemic.
FC Frederick is providing club players with training and matches against other clubs. Also, it has been holding camps where players can be seen by college coaches and formed a 7-on-7 league with teams comprised of players from numerous Frederick County high school draw areas.
While the MPSSAA’s decision has affected every fall sport in every Maryland county, Frederick County is a soccer hotbed that churns out state-title contenders and college-bound players year after year.
Demand for some sort of soccer this fall was high.
“We essentially are operating out of just a real feeling of obligation, to try to help these kids have some activities in the fall,” said Bo Eskay, executive director of FC Frederick. “It’s really unfortunate that the high school sports had to be canceled, but the schools are thinking about a lot of things in terms of the kids’ safety and that sort of thing.
“So our goal was to try to put into play as much programming as made sense, based on what we could do with our staffing, field availability, which is a huge issue, and other things,” he said. The 7-on-7 league and camps for college hopefuls have been held at Utica District Park.
Frederick Indoor Sports Center (FISC), which also doesn’t typically offer many activities for prep players during the fall, formed an 11-on-11 outdoor league for high school-aged boys and girls, with the bulk of them hailing from areas outside of Frederick County.
FISC games are played at a field on a farm owned by Tony Checchia, founder and co-owner of FISC. That same site hosted training sessions for players over the summer.
“When we found out there wasn’t going to be a high school season, I reached out to Tony, I said, ‘What do you think about this idea?,’” said Chris Stack, director of the FISC Soccer Academy. “He’s like, ‘I love it, let’s run with it.’”
Aside from games, FISC also offers student-athletes a package that includes training, mental and physical, as well as education on the college recruiting process.
“With what they’re going through and just from the mental side and stress and anxiety that these student-athletes are dealing with,” Stack said. “Somebody who wants to go play in college, the process has totally changed due to the pandemic. There’s no recruiting opportunities, there’s no campus visits, so teaching these kids on how to proceed and how to navigate this [process] is important.”
Likewise, FC Frederick has focused on helping players who hope to play in college, starting with an expanded club schedule. FC Frederick plays in the Club Champions League, which features some of the top club teams from Maryland and Virginia.
Eskay said the league “reimagined” its schedule, giving clubs like FC Frederick more opportunities to play matches during the fall.
“Normally we wouldn’t be doing that or not doing much of it,” Eskay said. “And then the hope is that by the time November rolls around, things are in a better place and the tournament scene will come back to life and we can get the kids at the showcases and that sort of thing.”
The recruiting process disruption began last spring, when the pandemic-related shutdown forced the cancellation of events that would’ve given high school players exposure to college coaches.
“Some of these were the biggest recruiting events that exist in the state, and a lot of our kids, that’s sort of where the process starts for them,” Eskay said. “And so that’s been shut down completely and still is.”
To help fill that void, FC Frederick scheduled ID camps, two each for boys and girls, from August through October. Players compete in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 matches at the events.
During a boys camp last month, Eskay expected about 60 players and 30 college coaches to show up. Granted, Division I coaches couldn’t attend because the NCAA prohibited them from such recruiting activities during that time, but Division II and Division III coaches were allowed to be there.
“What we decided to do was explore an idea where since we can’t go someplace to have our kids be seen, to see if we could host a college ID experience and bring in, invite college coaches in, to watch our kids and also kids from other clubs,” Eskay said.
FC Frederick also formed the School Area League for Soccer Athletes (SALSA), where players compete in 7-on-7 matches.
SALSA players are grouped based on their high school draw area. Most teams hail from Frederick County, but SALSA also includes players from Carroll and Washington counties. Eskay pointed out that these teams are not affiliated with high schools.
“We’ll have a schedule, and there are very unusual names and that sort of thing,” Eskay said. “There’s no affiliation with the high school structure.”
Eskay said that across all of its programs for high school-aged athletes, about 300 players were participating this fall.
Stack said FISC’s league had 185 players, and its teams are also grouped based on high school draw areas.
FISC’s girls league has seven teams. Catoctin is the only one from Frederick County, with the rest coming from Carroll and Washington counties. There are four boys teams, including two from South Carroll, one from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and a FISC house team with individual players who signed up.
At FISC, players could opt for a games-only package or a student-athlete package. The latter includes mental performance coaching, speed and agility sessions and education about college recruiting.
“We wanted to do just more than the opportunity to allow them to play,” Stack said. “We’re working with a bunch of other companies inside our facility to offer other development opportunities off the field.”
Of course, any soccer-related activities have to take safety precautions because of the coronavirus pandemic. For instance, Eskay said parents aren’t allowed inside the field area during matches. He said the club’s plan was evolving, based on decisions made by government officials.
“We have to submit a COVID plan that explains how we are going to be working with the kids, what the protocols are, that sort of thing,” Eskay said. “And then we have to follow that, and if anything changes from the county level, we have to make changes and different things like that.”
Such efforts help the organizations provide a semblance of normalcy for high school-aged players who have seen their careers turned upside-down by the pandemic.
“Leading a life from the laptop screen, it’s not what human beings were meant to do,” Eskay said. “And so we’re trying to work hard to get opportunities for these kids, [it]has really been kind of a mission of the club and its staff.”
Before the MPSSAA announced finalized plans to hold fall sports during the second semester of the 2020-21 school year, FISC planned to have a Senior Night for its high school-aged teams on Oct. 3.
“We weren’t sure if there was going to be a spring season or not. But it’s an opportunity to just honor the seniors who are playing and hopefully they got in a final game, to be able to play,” Stack said. “We may still do that on that day. We’ll see.”