Published on June 21st, 2015 | by Staples Soccer0
Dan Woog Debates High School / Academy Soccer On WFAN
Three years ago, Staples High School hosted a groundbreaking forum on the high school/US Soccer academy controversy. Head coach Dan Woog has since been outspoken about the value of high school soccer — while acknowledging the importance of the academy program for a limited number of players — and has been a guest on important radio shows like NPR’s “The Takeaway” with John Hockenberry.
This morning he spent an hour on WFAN, perhaps the premier sports talk radio station in the country. He was the sole guest on Rick Wolff’s “The Sports Edge.” Wolff, a former Sports Illustrated writer, is an expert on sports parenting.
Wolff — who believes strongly in the value of high school sports — asked a number of questions about the impact of the academy. Woog noted that with 80 academy clubs — and U-18 and U-16 teams, plus U-14 “pre-academy” squads at all of them — the impact is enormous.
One of Woog’s main points was that high school soccer offers a “holistic” experience. Coaches monitor players’ grades; they see athletes as full individuals, not merely “soccer players”; they encourage them to have lives off the soccer field, and they help them develop lifelong friendships. He mentioned Tom Beusse P’15, who will soon attend a reunion of his own New Jersey championship team. Woog said that players support their teammates decades after graduation — at weddings and funerals, among other times — adding that he doubts those important bonds could be replicated on academy teams.
Woog said that high school sports allow players to be role models for schools and communities. He cited the example of the 2009 FCIAC championship team. After the title match, they walked into the Sherwood Diner with their medals around their necks. Everyone there — including many students who had been at the game — stood and applauded.
Woog discussed the myth of college scholarships, the infinitesimally small number of players who go on to play professionally, and the role high school coaches play in helping athletes find — and get into — the college that is the best fit for them. He lauded Martin Jacobson, coach of perennial New York City champions Martin Luther King High School — Staples’ pre-season rivals — who does a tremendous job of placing his players in college programs.
Woog also spoke about the quality of coaching at the high school level. He used Staples’ own Kurt Dasbach (a former assistant coach at Columbia University) and Tom Henske (3-time national champion at the University of Virginia), and said there were plenty of other examples throughout the tri-state region.
The Wreckers’ coach said he was not “anti-academy.” He advocated for an academy system involving only the MLS teams, all of which subsidize all players. He said that Kyle Zajec — the Westporter who spent 4 years with the Red Bulls, and is now playing on their USL side — was a good example of someone who made his choice for “all the right reasons.” Woog said that while Zajec sacrificed a great deal to play academy soccer, he also fully supported Staples, and sat on the high school bench whenever he could.
When Woolf asked for a solution, Woog countered that this is a problem that does not need to exist. US Soccer never needed to mandate that young players have to choose between high school and the academy. Soccer’s governing body can change that policy at any time, he said.
(To hear the entire interview, click here; then choose the 6/21/15 podcast.)