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ECNL taking away our children's high school memories

June 21 2012 at 6:16 PM

Controversial club ruling puts top girls soccer players in tough position
Orlando City Youth Soccer says any player who joins one of its Elite Club National League teams isn't allowed to play high school soccer


Apopka's Selena Jaimes, left, and Wekiva's Paxton Sickler are 2 of the area's top girls soccer players. The Orlando City Youth Soccer organization has decided any player who plays for its club team cannot play high-school soccer. (Sentinel file)

By Austin Lyon, Orlando Sentinel
3:59 p.m. EDT, June 15, 2012

When Wekiva's Paxton Sickler walked off the field after a region loss against Vero Beach in January, she never imagined it would be her last high-school game.

But Sickler's senior season hangs in the balance as she ponders the toughest decision of her life.

"Not being able to play my senior year, not being able to experience Senior Night and make those memories would really hurt," Sickler said.

Sickler and many of Central Florida's top girls players are at the center of a hot debate involving Orlando City Youth Soccer.

The club recently was granted entry into the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL), widely considered the top youth girls soccer league in the country. OCYS, the youth affiliate to the Orlando City Soccer Club, decided any player who joined one of its 14-18 ECNL teams would not be permitted to play for their high-school team.

"The only motivation behind our decision is for fear of burnout and the high potential for career-threatening injuries through overtraining and over-play," OCYS executive director Brian Pederson said in an e-mail.

According to Pederson, the ECNL season runs from August through May and teams will practice three or four times per week. The high-school season starts in October and ends in January.

The Sentinel contacted 31 other clubs nationwide that have ECNL teams. Thirty of those clubs allow their ECNL players to play high-school soccer.

"I'm disappointed and frustrated with the way this came about," Apopka coach Doug Matthews said. "In the days before club got this strong, club and high school worked together. It's sad."

Said Pederson: "This was a very tough decision to reach, but we did what we believe is best for our young athletes."

Sickler is among a number of players who must choose whether to play for their high-school team or get major-college exposure at the top level of youth soccer.

"I know it will help me in the long run for college if I do play ECNL,'' Sickler said. "It just stinks.''

Sam Collin, who helped Hagerty reach the Class 5A state championship game last season, will forgo her senior season with the Huskies for a spot on OCYS's under-18 ECNL team.

"It really sucks,'' Collin said. "Everyone who is playing ECNL would love to play high school.''

OCYS offers state and region teams that don't stipulate any restrictions on high-school soccer. Apopka midfielder Selena Jaimes, a first-team All-Central Florida selection last year, plans to play on OCYS's State Cup team.

"They can't take away my senior year of high-school soccer," Jaimes said.

"Everyone is used to doing high school and club. Now high-school soccer isn't going to be the same anymore, because ECNL is taking away all the top players."

Many of the area's top programs, including Lake Highland, Bishop Moore, Oviedo and Lake Mary, said several of their players have joined ECNL teams. Hagerty projects to lose at least seven of its 17 returning players because of OCYS's rule.

"It's hard for a 15- or 16-year-old girl to make a decision like that, but they'll have to make a lot of hard decisions," Hagerty coach Rodney Kenney said. "The problem is, there's no going back. You can't go back and get that high-school experience again."

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They don't

June 22 2012, 11:13 AM 

Have to play for an ECNL team. Play somewhere else or stop bitching

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Shouldn't be an issue for seniors.

June 23 2012, 11:02 AM 

I don't see why girls that are going to be on a U-18 ECNL team who have already committed to a college would choose to play ECNL. The only coaches you see on the sidelines for the U-18 games are coaches just stopping by to wave at kids that have already committed to the school.

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Re: Shouldn't be an issue for seniors.

June 23 2012, 2:08 PM 

BECAUSE if you plan to take your senior year off from competitive soccer and play on college, you're screwed.

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