No doubt, the Barrie Soccer Club is a viable operation. With more than 5,000 athletes under its umbrella, the club is among the largest in the province.
With its numbers in good order, club officials have begun turning their attention to promoting the sport at the elite level, to those seeking further pursuits beyond the club level.
"It's an awareness thing," said Rick Morandini, manager of the club, which just wrapped up its 40th season on the pitch. "It takes some time, but that's part of the focus."
About three years ago, the club began looking into ways of promoting the sport to those talented athletes considering taking the next step in their soccer careers, but unsure of where to turn.
One initiative that came out of those initial discussions was to form an annual showcase, which included handing out achievement awards. The awards are dolled out to a male and female playing in the club's under-17 division.
This year's recipients, Corey Graves and Lyndsey Armstrong, stand to benefit from a bursary package purchased by the club from University Prospects, a recruitment service that connects athletes with college and university coaches.
Barrie resident Brian Smith is the founder of University Prospects.
Another way the club is reaching out to its elite level athletes is through its academy, a pay-as-you-go program which allows athletes to train year-round, with specialized training provided at the Barrie Sports Dome throughout the winter months.
The club's unofficial campaign to promote the various opportunities available to its athletes won't produce results overnight, but it has already had a positive impact, said Morandini, noting the many athletes who have gone on to achieve scholarships at universities and colleges in the U. S. and Canada in recent years.
"What we're trying to do is make those (athletes) 15 and up aware that those opportunities are available," the club manager said. "There are some incredible opportunities south of the border. It's an awareness thing."
Some physical proof of athletes enjoying success beyond the club level was made apparent last month when the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks women's soccer team came to Barrie for an exhibition game against the Barrie women's provincial travel team.
Taking part in that game were Kristin Chalmers and Ali McKee, two members of the Golden Hawks with ties to the Barrie club. Chalmers, an Innisdale Secondary School graduate, has been part of the local club since she was a youngster, while McKee, a Bracebridge native, played several years in Barrie.
"The field was packed," Morandini said. "There were hundreds of (members) out there watching the game. It was fantastic."
Chalmers and McKee are enjoying a successful start to the season.
The undefeated Hawks (3-0-0) are coming off a 0-0 draw on the weekend to the York Lions, ranked second in the nation among Canadian Interuniversity Sport teams.
Various other club graduates are excelling in the NCAA system, and at U. S.- based schools such as Niagara University, where three males currently play, said Morandini, who expects the level of talent coming out of the Barrie club to continue to rise as the club's various initiatives gain steam.
"In general, we're behind in Barrie with the elite side of it," he said. "Our job is to close the gap.
"It's an awareness thing."
By IAN SHANTZ