In the mid 1990's Shawnee High School emerged as the powerhouse soccer program in our area. Their reign continued for the better part of two decades. The reason for Shawnee's dominance can be found in their being on the cutting edge of soccer in our area. A vast majority of the credit for this goes to Graham Ramsay who conducted Shawnee's team camp for many years. In fact, it was when Shawnee and Graham parted ways that Shawnee's decline began - slowly at first as the residual effects of Graham's training remained. The decent increased with each succeeding year until today where we find Shawnee has completely surrendered the throne it long held to now reside in mediocrity.
More than just being Shawnee's soccer guru, Graham brought the international game to our area. He used to lament how our players didn't know who the top clubs in the world were or who the superstar players of the time were. Remember, Graham's tenure as conductor of Shawnee's team camp began before the Internet. For many of his early years at Shawnee soccer was not available on television except during the World Cups and even then on a limited basis. In fact, the USWNT got more play in those days than did men's soccer. We were truly isolated from the world's game in almost every regard.
Progress does not rest nor take a backseat for long. The Internet and cable / satellite TV eventually made their way to west central Ohio and the flood gates opened. We suddenly had access not only to the entertainment aspects of soccer, but to the vast world of knowledge technology brought to our doorsteps.
Before the Internet and soccer become readily available on TV it was the video tapes Graham brought with him on his visits that provided a hint of the potential the world of soccer held for us. I eagerly anticipated Graham's arrival each summer in small part because of the video tapes and later on the DVD's he brought along with him. I made copies of everything he brought and this was the start of my video library. Soccer Star, The Mighty Reds and snippets of Romario ignited a fire within us to learn more about the game. These copies of tapes / DVD's are the foundation of a video library now numbering over 400 titles. That's not to mention books and coaching manuals that easily number upwards of another 150 titles.
The real gifts Graham brought were his knowledge of and passion for the game. Shawnee began running the flat back four defense years before anyone else in the area. This became Shawnee's trademark and one of its biggest advantages when competing against other high schools. Graham also brought to us a week of 3 sessions per day of technical training. It was a grueling week conducted at the end of July each summer. The payoff was when practice began around the first week of August, Shawnee was already in mid-season form.
I have stated this before, but it is well worth repeating - I learn more about soccer from Graham spending a week at my house than I do everywhere else combined. To this day these lessons still bear fruit. I was a soccer novice when I first met Graham and still find myself realizing the truth of what he sought to impart to this day some 15 years later. In those early years with Graham I made copious notes of every session he conducted, but did not necessarily truly understand what I was noting. Understanding came as the base of my soccer knowledge strengthened over the years. And I still have all those notes!
While Shawnee decided to part ways with Graham, I continue to host him every opportunity I have. He has worked with Botkins and Lima Central Catholic high schools as well as Lance's youth teams. When next I coach high school, Graham will be the first I call to schedule a team camp.
In the grand scheme of youth and high school soccer our rural west central Ohio communities might still lag behind our big city brethren, but the gap has closed considerably over the last 20 years. The top programs in the area remain those on the cutting edge of the game. The best example of this manifestation is the movement of community based teams away from the independent WCOSA league and into USYSA sponsored leagues. This provides a more serious level of competition for the youth however it also brings along its own baggage - declining numbers for some of the recreational programs and a weakening of the overall depth in the numbers that are playing. The talent level in our small communities is becoming somewhat top heavy exasperated by declining numbers of participants that can ill be afforded if we are to sustain the sport to the standards previously set. I'm not overly concerned as it will all right itself eventually.
Our next writing will take a look at the vital importance of culture in the game.