Getting their kicks during Howland camp

HOWLAND — The sun was up and the ball was rolling for seven Howland children who spent the first hour and a half of their Monday morning practicing foot skills and ball control with the Challenger Sports International Soccer Camp.

The camp, which is designed to help kids improve their soccer skills and learn how the game is played in other countries, has been held in Howland Township Park for at least the past five years, according to Jeff Deiter, soccer commissioner for the Howland Athletic Club, who locally hosts the Challenger Sports program.

In the past, 20 to 30 kids have participated in the camp, Deiter said. He said this year’s low numbers may be because of the rise in popularity of competitive and travel clubs in the area.

“More and more kids are starting to play club,” Deiter said. “Some of the kids that might have gone to the camps aren’t going.”

Payton Musser, 7, is doing the camp in addition to playing on two soccer teams.

“He said he wants to be the world’s best,” Payton’s grandfather, Jeff Musser, said of the soon-to-be second-grader. He said Payton already has been playing soccer for two years, following in the footsteps of his father, Adam, who traveled to England to play soccer as a kid and went on to play at Cleveland State University. Payton’s mother, Melissa, also played soccer at CSU, Musser said.

The five-day camp runs 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Friday and is designed to help kids improve their skills as well as have fun, said camp coach David Richardson.

Richardson, who is from the town of Kilmarnock in Scotland, has been traveling the U.S. for the past several weeks leading soccer camps through Challenger Sports, a group that originally operated as “British Soccer Camps.” He is one of 170 British coaches in the Atlanta Region, which spans Ohio, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama. Richardson said as many as 15 camps are being held in Ohio this week.

“[Soccer] is getting big here,” Richardson said. “That’s good.”

Richardson said the camps are a good way for coaches like himself to travel the United States while working and gaining experience — and the kids enjoy meeting someone from the UK, where soccer is an extremely popular sport.

“And they love the accent,” Richardson said.

“It’s a great experience, especially for the younger kids,” said Deiter, whose daughter did the camp for three years. “I’m sad to see the numbers are so low this year.”

Deiter said he hopes next year the athletic club can help the camp regain traction. The club sends out e-mail blasts to parents about various soccer camps, including those run through Youngstown State University and the Trumbull County Soccer Association.