By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Taking shelter in what little shade there was next to the locker room at Stillwater Junior High School, Abel Abame passed out peanut butter crackers to his team.
Only these weren’t any ordinary peanut butter crackers — there was something special about them. They were earned.
The crackers — along with medals — were the rewards Abame’s Team USA reaped after coming from behind to force a 5-5 draw with Team Brazil, effectively giving them the Olympic division title.
“It tastes like a whole other flavor,” Abame said. “It’s not a plain peanut butter cracker — it’s the best. It tastes like it’s worth a million dollars.
“I felt like (that game) was like the NBA Finals. I just want to go party after this, but I’m just going to sit with the team and watch them do the obstacle course. It’s just a great experience.”
Team USA’s victory over Brazil was just a little of the drama that surrounded the final day of the Pioneer Soccer Academy’s league play. From a 12-round shootout during the first round of the Major League Soccer division to TCU overcoming Oklahoma State in the Big 12 division, championship Friday had the same pressure-packed intensity as any game played in Pioneer Stadium.
“It brought up some very bad memories for the team that lost in penalty kicks because they lost two times this past season in penalty kicks the same way,” Stillwater High School coach Seth Condley said. “You could see the excitement and emotion on their face, and you could feel the intensity in the in that shootout. They wanted to win really bad. ... It was just cool to see because that’s the first time that’s ever happened here at camp.”
Whether it was high-fiving players after they scored a goal or just trying to get everybody into position, it was hard to tell who was more into the game — the players or the team leaders.
“It was pretty intense,” Abame said. “I’m glad to just to play with the little kids and be able to coach them. Just being there, helping them, coaching them and seeing how hard they worked to win, it’s a great feeling.”
The skills Abame taught his players over the last four days may have helped guide Team USA to the Olympic title but as Ian Fladie knows, it’s the players that make all the difference.
“It takes good coaching, but you’ve got to give the credit to the kids,” said Fladie, whose New York Red Bulls team clinched the title with a 4-0 victory in the final game. “They’re coachable and able to listen. They were having fun while doing it and you win a championship? That’s really the best of both worlds.”
Even after all the medals for the various competitions and league games were handed out, that’s what this year’s edition of the Pioneer Soccer Academy was all about — making sure all 112 participants had fun. And while not everybody was able to bring home a medal or give their coach a celebratory Gatorade bath, Condley and his crew succeeded in that regard.
“I feel like the camp went well, especially this year,” Fladie said. “There were so many kids here. If you look around, everybody’s smiling. It doesn’t really look like too many kids are down. It was just a great camp.”
In fact the only tears that were being shed were from a little girl who told her mother that she didn’t want the camp to end yet.
“It was outstanding,” Condley said. “The campers, the staff — everybody had a great time. It was top notch and we had lots of people say that they loved it and enjoyed it. Hopefully, they’ll come back. It’s kind of a tribute to our staff because they want to come back every year. We have very little turnover every year and it’s just a fun time.”
And even as Fladie and his crew looked at their medals, the now graduated Stillwater star takes pride in knowing his campers not only had fun but also learned something over the last four days.
“At the end of the camp, I asked the kids I was coaching if they learned something and they all said they did,” Fladie said. “That’s the biggest key. That and the fact they all had fun. Everybody loves winning, but having fun is the biggest part.”