OK. I’m sold.

After watching and studying the game of soccer for the past seven years, I’ve grown to have a new appreciation for the sport.

The main sport that I played when I was coming up was football. Not futbol, but futbol Americano. So honestly, we didn’t interact with too many guys on the soccer team. We thought that we played the roughest sport in America, and we had our preconceived ideas of soccer players. OK, football is the roughest sport in America, but for us to stereotype soccer players was wrong. 

Of course, many of us played soccer when we were kids on our respective elementary playgrounds. But, as many of my classmates and I grew up, we went our separate ways, choosing the sports that we liked the most. A bunch of guys were like me – a multi-sport athlete. So there were numbers in football, basketball, baseball and track. 

Some of the soccer guys were looked upon as outcasts. Not all, but some. It was totally wrong for anyone of us to classify soccer players as this or that. The other day, I heard a high school student bash a guy because he played soccer. I thought to myself. "Wow, I’ve seen that before." If any of you junior high or high school football players are reading this article – I know many of you do, and I appreciate your support – don’t make fun of soccer players because there’s more to the game than just kicking the ball and running around.

The more I watched and studied the game, the more I started to like it. Those high school soccer players are some of the best athletes in the school, both boys and girls. Trust me. There is a lot that goes into the preparation of a game plan. For those of you who don’t believe that soccer is physical, then stand on the field for a half during a match. I bet your opinion will change.

This county has become one of the richest areas in terms of soccer talent in the state. A lot of that is because more kids are playing club ball and training in the offseason. A large portion of that is because Faulkner County has some of the best coaches in the state. Conway boys soccer coach Robert Irons is one of the best coaches in the nation, in my opinion. He has built the program into a powerhouse in the region. Coaches from all across the nation know about Conway High in Arkansas. The Wampus Cats have been to five of the last six state championship matches, winning two titles. That’s almost unheard of.

Conway also hired another soccer guru for its girls program, Whitney Allison. Allison is a former Lady Cat and was an All-SEC performer for Arkansas. She knows the game of soccer inside and out. There’s no doubt that Allison will be able to take the program to the next level.

Greenbrier’s coach T.J. Slough is as good as they come. He coaches both the girls and boys. His Lady Panthers live in the state tournament and they’re always a force to be reckoned with during the 5A-West Conference race. St. Joseph girls coach Mike Angel has had several recent trips to the state championship match, and his resume is stacked with title after title. 

There are a lot of facts that back up that soccer is becoming more and more popular in the state.

(Michael Allen is a staff writer at the Log Cabin Democrat. He can be reached at mike.allen@thecabin.net or 505-1234.)