For the first time in the city of Columbus, a director and a board of directors will run soccer. Tom Velek, far left, will serve as director of Columbus Soccer Organization and Columbus United, the competitive arm of the city’s soccer club. Board members will be Danielle Linton, Armando Leyva, Randy Francisco, and Lee Milam. Photo by: Adam Minichino/Dispatch Staff
July 3, 2018 12:21:38 AM
Tom Velek has a new take on a familiar sport, and he would like you and your children to get involved.
As the new director for the Columbus Soccer Organization, Velek already has convinced Randy Francisco, Armando Leyva, Danielle Linton, and Lee Milam to do their part to help grow CSO and Columbus United, the competitive arm of the city's soccer club. Their work will mark the first time in the city that a director and a board of directors will run soccer.
Velek and the four-person board have spent the past few months sorting through ideas and formulating a plan to move the sport forward in the city of Columbus. They all agree the timing is right for more people to get on board.
"I think the soccer program had grown to a point where we could not work efficiently and effectively having everything run through one person," Velek said. "There were enough moving parts that we had to have individuals each in their own field of expertise, in their own area of interest who were working and striving to make that particular part of the puzzle excellent."
CSO was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 2008. Velek, who has served in a variety of capacities with Columbus United, the competitive club of CSO and with Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority, which is now Columbus Recreation Authority, always believed CSO had the potential to have a board to help it move soccer forward on multiple fronts. He said he is ready to help make those dreams a reality.
"It came to a point where there was a group of individuals, Lee among them, that said we have to have a board structure to make this thing run efficiently and effectively," Velek said. "Our goal is to provide playing opportunities for every player in the city, in the county, in the area, from recreational to competitive soccer, to adult soccer, which will return in the spring of 2019, to TOPSoccer. We are going to provide an exceptional playing experience for every player and support for every coach."
TOPSoccer is a community-based training and team placement program for young athletes with disabilities, organized by youth soccer association volunteers.
Milam, who serves as the board member for recreational soccer, said he wanted to get involved to help grow what he called the "foundation" for the program. He said players typically have a starting point in a club, and he feels working to improve the recreational experiences for players and coaches will help encourage both parties to stay involved and, possibly, move to higher levels.
"I thought it was very important to improve the quality of soccer, the quality of the coaching," Milam said. "There are so many different elements that start at the rec level. That is what really drew me to the position."
Milam has two daughters, Sophie, 10, and Caroline, 14, who are involved with CSO and Columbus United teams.
Linton, who will be the board member for fundraising and public outreach, has two daughters involved in recreational and competitive soccer. One daughter, Lily, is a freshman at Heritage Academy and plays on the school's varsity girls soccer team.
Francisco, who is in charge of technology and media, has a daughter, Gracie, 13, and a 4-year-old, involved in soccer in the city. He is excited about getting the word out about the possibilities for CSO and Columbus United. Last year, he said Columbus United streamed some of its matches online for the first time. It also live streamed its banquet.
"We are growing in really large numbers from the previous year, and we need to get that out there to the public," Francisco said.
Leyva, who will serve as the board member for competitive soccer, has a son, Armando Jr., a daughter, Sara, 8, and another son, Eric, 5, involved in CSO and Columbus United. Leyva remembers when his wife, Samantha, told him to "shut up and sign up" to coach after she heard him talking about some of the things he wanted to be done differently and some of the training he wanted to players to have to develop their skills. After working as an assistant coach, Leyva has taken a more active role in shaping the direction of soccer in the city.
"The kids and the families understand the sport better and understand what it takes to make it successful," said Leyva, who has been involved for the last four years. "There is more involved, so they are getting better as families in supporting us, so I think the program needs to get better. There is no question about it.
"At the end of the day, this is for the kids. We need to develop them and for them to have fun. We need to be there and give them those opportunities regardless of whatever they want to do."
Everyone involved hopes to build to a point where all age groups are served and players and families don't have to look to another city or club to be able to play.
The board members also encouraged local businesses to get involved to help CSO and Columbus United grow. A fee structure for sponsors is being finalized.
Velek feels the board has made a lot of progress in a short amount of time. He hopes the energy he feels from the board of directors will be infectious and motivate people throughout Columbus to join in making CSO and Columbus United two of the best in the state.
"It is a very different way of running a program that we have done -- ever -- and I have been here for 15 years," Velek said. "It has always been top down. This structure has multiple people in multiple areas. They all are open to getting feedback and ideas about what CSO and Columbus United can use to keep players in Columbus.
"It is an entirely different mind-set. I think we are the only youth sport in the city that is doing it that way. I wanted the very best people in these positions because they're going to do their jobs, and they're going to bring good ideas (to the table)."
Registration for recreational soccer and Columbus United is open through Aug. 18. Those interested can register at the office at Propst Park. There also is a form available at: https://columbusunitedsoccer.sportngin.com/register/form/267496571
CSO is looking for coaches for its recreational season in the fall and Columbus United is looking for coaches for its competitive teams in the fall and for 2019. A coaching stipend will be given to competitive level head coaches. There will be free coaching development for all coaches. New coaches are welcome. No experience is needed.
For recreational level coaches, CSO is offering new support and development opportunities. This includes paying for all required United States Soccer Federation (USSF) coaching certification for Under-8 and above, paying for all background checks, offering model practice sessions for teams at all age groups, and free CSO coaching education.
Head coaches who complete a season and return the following year to coach will have their child's registration paid. CSO is a non-profit entity. As such, all non-reimbursed expenses associated with coaching (both head coaches and assistant coaches) and other volunteer positions are typically tax deductible. This might include mileage for travel to training and competitions. Consult a tax professional prior to filing.
For more information, contact Velek at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 662-386-7392.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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