In a blend of green, white, and gold shirts, the past, present and quite possibly the future of UNC Charlotte soccer came together at the center of field No. 2 at Concord’s Frank Liske Park one evening. The partnership between the local university’s soccer programs and a youth soccer alliance is one that both have nurtured for several years, but finally formalized in 2008.Wrapping up a recent Football Club Carolina Alliance weekday practice, Luke Exley, the director of recreation and youth development, addressed a group of mostly elementary-school-age boys and girls about the importance of having fun while learning the game of soccer. Standing behind him as older testaments to his words were the evening’s guest coaches: college players Jennings Rex, Anthony Perez and Aidan Kirkbride.The interaction Charlotte’s soccer teams have with FCCA’s players is the catalyst of the programs’ strengthening bond. The youth get to mingle with and learn from many of the same role models they cheer for at the 49ers’ Transamerica Field. In return, Charlotte’s players expose themselves to the University City fan base and accumulate community service time.When Shane Carew was hired as FCCA executive director in 2008, he opened the dialogue with 49ers men’s coach Jeremy Gunn and women’s coach John Cullen, who once served as FCCA executive director. As a former 49ers soccer player, Carew admits to his special allegiance to the university.As part of FCCA’s philosophy and vision, Carew wanted to help UNC Charlotte become more prominent in how the community selects its favorite college sports teams. Charlotte’s teams hope to make fans out of entire families by inviting FCCA players to attend their games, including an annual pre-game barbecue blowout, and to serve as ball boys.“How many kids do we see wearing Carolina and Wake Forest colors around Charlotte?” says Carew. “We should support (UNC) Charlotte, no matter what the sport. That probably comes from my heritage from Ireland where everyone supports the local club.”Carew “Charlotte-ized” everything he could about FCCA, down to changing the organization’s colors from black and red to green, gold and white. Including Carew and Exley, a 2010 graduate, FCCA has seven coaches that are either former Charlotte players or current 49ers assistant coaches.Charlotte men’s assistant coach Kyle Gookins coached an FCCA U-15 boys team to the 2010 Kepner Cup, a state championship in the Classic A division. Gookins directs FCCA’s speed, agility and technical program, which is advanced training for its older, elite players.The college coaches, which include those from additional FCCA partners Catawba College in Salisbury and Pfeiffer University in Misenhemier, also conduct educational seminars to prepare high school players for the collegiate recruiting experience.Representatives on both sides of the partnership are quick to point out that Charlotte’s teams have two FCCA alums: freshman Jeremy Dennis, a Vance High graduate, and senior Megan Mazzarella, a former Cannon School player. Cullen, whose 7-year-old daughter plays in the recreational program, says that developing collegiate players adds to FCCA’s credibility.“Hopefully kids will come up through the FCCA program wearing the green shirt,” he says. “And one day wear the green shirt of the Charlotte 49ers.”
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