Long Bell Stadium’s field was a bit damp last week, but the intermittent rain and clouds provided a respite from the heat for the children and teenagers completing their final days of soccer camp. The Hinesville Gators Soccer Association and Atlanta Calcio Academy wrapped up the week-long camp and offered five local soccer players the opportunity of a lifetime — a trip to Florence, Italy, next spring.
The opportunity is the first of what Gator and First Presbyterian Christian Academy soccer coach Tom Sukaratana thinks will be a yearly excursion resulting from a recently agreed-upon partnership between Atlanta Calcio Academy and the Gators to train athletes who are looking to go professional.
ACA head coach Gavino Asteghene, who also is Team Italy’s professional trainer and scout, said he was impressed with the talent in Hinesville when he first visited in February to train FPCA’s teams as they prepared for the state tournament.
Seeing the talent pool, Asteghene collaborated with Sukaratana to host last week’s specialized camp. Roughly 30 children went through drills and maneuvers under the guidance of Asteghene, former professional soccer player Francesco Macri and David Sexton.
By the end of the week, Asteghene had chosen his top five players. He said he will work with their families to ensure the athletes can travel to Italy and train at a professional academy for one week.
“For being such a small community, Hinesville should be very proud of the talent they have here,” Asteghene said. “This has been a wonderful opportunity, and I hope that every year we can improve and make this camp bigger. By the third year, I want to have a bunch of my professional coaches here and enough kids to have sessions twice a day, where we can better serve the athletes by age groups and provide the training necessary based on skill levels, age and size.”
Asteghene said he is looking to take Brooke Standard, Ricky Gilliard, Cecilia Graham, Tyler Causer and Clark Sukaratana to Italy, where they will join an already-selected group of American athletes chosen earlier this year after a training camp in Cobb County. They will train and play as a team against a European squad in front of scouts.
The training academy in Italy is the same facility used by professional European teams.
Asteghene said he is collaborating with Sukaratana because he has known him for 30 years and trusts his ability to evaluate players.
Soccer players from the Coastal Empire who aspire to play professionally will go through a screening process provided by the Hinesville Gators Soccer Association. If a player makes the first cut, he or she will be selected to train at Asteghene’s academy in Atlanta for a final evaluation by Asteghene’s staff. Players who make the grade will be offered an opportunity to go to Italy for professional training.
“I trust Tom’s judgment,” Asteghene said. “I know he will only select the best athletes — ones that truly display the skills needed to play professional soccer and ones who have the right mind set for the opportunity. Ultimately, it is up to the player how far they want to go in their soccer career.”
Sukaratana said the athletes who train in Italy may be scouted.
“Some may even be offered a pro sponsorship and train for a pro career,” he said.
Asteghene and Sukaratana already are planning next year’s specialized camp, which will be hosted at Long Bell Stadium. They plan to invite soccer organizations from Richmond Hill, Jesup, Savannah and the surrounding areas.
Asteghene said he will meet in August with the parents of the athletes he just selected to start working out the details of the trip. He added that he looks forward to returning to Hinesville.
“Right now, I live in Atlanta and it’s nice, but Tom took us to Savannah and the Sunbury Crab Company, and he took us to his home, where he cooked for us,” he said. “It’s nice here.”