It can be difficult for young athletes in Hawaii to get the attention of college and pro scouts on the mainland, but youth soccer players have an opportunity to get noticed this month with a pair of camps designed to find young talent on the Big Island.
The Big Island ID Camp will be held from 8 a.m. to noon Tuesday to Friday at Old Kona Airport Park for players ages 7 to 14 while those ages 15 to 18 can attend a camp at Hawaii Preparatory Academy from 3 to 6 p.m. June 23 to 26. The HPA dates also include a youth camp for those 7 to 14 from 8 a.m. to noon.
Coach Jeff Illingworth, an England native who will run the camps, believes that the Big Island has players capable of playing at higher levels of soccer.
“There are some very good players — boys and girls,” said Illingworth, who has been coaching in San Diego since 1981. “There are some very good players. The only difference is when you compete with San Diego, Los Angeles, Dallas or Seattle, the numbers they have are astronomical. In Seattle, in seven years they went from zero to 20,000 players.”
What Hawaii lacks in numbers it makes up for in attitude, according to Illingworth.
“The enthusiasm and genuine desire of the Hawaiian kids to learn and try to move forward is fantastic,” he said. “They have a fantastic attitude. It’s very enlightening.”
Last year, Illingworth took then 13-year-old Esai Easley of the Kona Crush Soccer Academy to train with Manchester City in England.
Vince La Porta, coach of the Crush, said that having Illingworth come to the Big Island is a tremendous opportunity for soccer players of all skill levels.
“He’s got a wealth of experience and knowledge that he can share with me and the players,” La Porta said.
Illingworth has coached for some of the top youth programs in the United States, including the Carmel Valley Manchester Soccer Club and Surf City. He has mentored former U.S. national team members such as Frankie Hejduk and Steve Cherundolo.
He’s known for his ability to identify talent, which is the goal of the I.D. camps.
“For the older boys, we want to give them some real details and aims and expectations for what they can achieve, probably on the mainland,” he said, noting that most players from Hawaii will have to leave the islands to play soccer in college.
Players who impress Illingworth will get a chance to show what they can do against players on the mainland, and their skills could possibly take them even farther.
“Any of the kids at the camp who really stand out, we’ll give them a chance to come over to San Diego and play at a high level,” Illingworth said. “We may also take some kids to England to play.”
While Illingworth will be looking for advanced players, La Porta noted that there is also an opportunity for young players at the HPA camp, which also features Andy Hargreaves, coach of Torrey Pines High School in California and a staff member at RSF Attack.
“The youth camp is open to any player of any level,” La Porta said. “Our coaches specialize in creating fun sessions where every player, no matter their skill level, can be developed. If they develop a little each day they’re going to get better.”
Each camp costs $165 per player, but a family discount is available. More information can be obtained by emailing BigIslandSoccerCamps@gmail.com or calling 285-4815.