Area talent shines on in Sun
By STEVE LEE, Times Staff Writer
In its 27th year, the Tampa Bay Sun Bowl is a top destination for club teams around the nation.
Published December 21, 2004
TAMPA - Reared in Ware, a quaint New England town about 75 miles west of Boston, Saint Leo athletic director Fran Reidy often takes his family back for Christmas.
For 16 years, he came home alone.
A longtime soccer coach, Reidy was lured back ahead of his family by the Tampa Bay Sun Bowl, one of the nation's most prestigious boys club tournaments.
"When you have that amount of talent in your backyard, you have to go," Reidy said. "It was the soccer world brought to your front door."
Reidy's solo jaunts ended last Christmas, primarily because he stepped down as Saint Leo coach. Now his predecessor, Joel Harrison, represents Saint Leo at the tournament.
The Tampa Bay Sun Bowl, whish starts its 27th edition Monday, has evolved from an international tourney hosted by Town 'N Country teams into a national showcase for players seeking scholarships.
The even, which ends Dec.30, will be played in five central Florida counties. That differs from the first few years when Town 'N Country hosted 20-plus teams from Canada, Mexico, South American and Europe with games on two fields off Hanley Road.
"It went from one location to the entire Tampa Bay area," Land O'Lakes coach Mark Pearson said. "Part of it is soccer has grown so much. There are lots of club teams all over."
The event, which this year includes 286 squads, often is mentioned in the same breath as the Dallas Cup, Surf Cup in San Diego and Raleigh (N.C.) Shootout.
Assistant director Paul Kelmer said the field primarily is limited to state or regional champions. And since international teams would require additional insurance coverages, which would lead to an admission charge for the free tournament, other countries no longer are included.
Still, last year's tourney drew a record 335 teams.
"It was just monstrous last year," said Kelmer, noting that this season's field has been reduced to a more accommodating number.
The Sun Bowl must be restrictive, he said, to keep the talent level at a premium.
"It's not fair for a team that travels from Columbus (Ohio) or somewhere to beat up on a team 10-0," Kelmer said. "They don't come here for that."
Players come to get recognized, even at the lowest division.
"(The Sun Bowl) is probably the highest recruited event in the country," said Adrian Bush, an all-state player at Hillsborough who in 1994 was named the Division II player of the year after leading the University of Tampa to a national championship.
"It's more widely known now," said Sam Koleduk, Saint Leo's all-time scoring leader. "There are more college coaches, for sure."
Next week, 185 coaches from 145 colleges and universities will watch games. And most, Kelmer said, will stay to see the division finals Thursday at Ed Radice Sports Complex in northwest Hillsborough.
While some of the more prominent players will be easy to spot, coaches will have to look hard for the diamond in the rough. Reidy found one such player in Jon Akin, who eventually joined Bush and Koleduk in the Sunshine State Conference Hall of Fame. Akin came off the bench as a guest player, and some coaches who left early missed him.
"He didn't start, but he was a great player," Reidy said.
Nowhere, coaches and players say, is there a greater challenge than the Sun Bowl. That's something relished by Sean Doyle, a River Ridge senior who has played with club teams in tournaments in England and France.
"Competition-wise, for American teams, it's pretty damn good," said Doyle, who plays for Hillsborough United. "I always like to play in it just to get myself pumped up."
Cameron Baker, who has played for Tampa Blackwatch and the Clearwater Chargers as well as a tourney in France, said: "You've got to stay positive. You never know who's going to be watching you. A coach doesn't want to see a negative player. He wants to see a team leader."
Some such leaders noticed at the Sun Bowl have been Mehran Mostifarvifar, a standout for Tampa's 2002 national championship squad; former Tampa Jesuit star Bryce Wegerle, who plays in Italy; and Justin Geisler, the all-time Pasco County scoring leader who kicked for the South Florida football team.
Unlike that group, Bush, Koleduk and Pearson have played and coached in the Sun Bowl.
Pearson, who played at Tampa and has coached seven club teams in Sun Bowls, competed in a U-17 final for the St.Petersburg Raiders in 1990. That squad lost 2-0 to an Ohio team it had defeated by the same margin in a preliminary round.
"It was a great accomplishment getting there," Pearson said.
Bush remembers being able to stay home and play the nation's top teams.
"We were in one of the biggest tournaments in the country, and it was in our backyard," he said.
Where are the girls?
Sun Bowl board members Kelmer and Mike McIver have had daughters play college soccer. Michele Kelmer, a 1991 Bloomingdale graduate, and 1990 Leto grad Kelly McIver, played for Anderson (S.C.) and Florida Atlantic. So, one might ask, why hasn't the field included girls teams?
Actually, it has.
In 1986 a squad pulled out late and was replaced by U-18 Blackwatch Heather. Though the Tampa-based team went 0-4, McIver said it was not blown out. Someday, he said, a girls division might join the mix.
"In the late (19)70s and early 80s, the girls program wasn't where it is now," McGiver said. "We bring it up all the time, and we're getting close to adding them."
Vicky King, who has coached the Land O'Lakes girls to two straight high school state appearances, including the 2002 Class 2A title, is not sold on that prospect.
"You won't see it because of the Orange Classic," King said of a girls tournament in Miami played during the same week as the Sun Bowl. "You don't want to compete with that."
Besides, King said, "The Sun Bowl is big enough as it is."
[Last modified December 21, 2004, 00:33:05]
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