Former Blast Makes Teaching Children His Goal

Contributing Writer

December 08, 1991|By Mike Jefferson

After almost a decade competing in professional and Olympic level soccer, Bobby McAvan had to hang up his shoes in 1985 due to injury.

But he wasn't about to give up for good the sport he'd played as a young boy on the streets of his native home, Dundee, Scotland.

Today, you'll find McAvan, 38, passing on his enthusiasm and knowledge of the game to young players who jam the Maryland Sports Arena in Edgewood weeknights and weekends.

McAvan and his business partner, Abingdon resident Ron Szczybor, have transformed the former indoor tennis barn into the county's only indoor soccer arena.

McAvan, a Bel Air resident and Baltimore Blast player from 1981-1985, spends each day organizing soccer leagues and helping young players develop the needed skills to play the world's most popular sport.

McAvan and Szczybor worked hard renovating the facility, formerly the Edgewood Athletic Club, which they say had fallen into disrepair.

But thehard work didn't deter McAvan, mostly because he loves soccer and had a dream of working with young players.

"If it had been any othersport, I'd have been out," he said. "I'm the luckiest man in the world. I've got 2,000 kids and a game that I love."

On a recent evening at the arena, McAvan sat in the pro shop, explaining why he ventured into starting the indoor soccer facility. Telephones rang constantly. Rambunctious kids --ed in and out of the store.

"I think I will simply always consider myself a soccer pro," he says.

The county's growing youth population and the increasing popularity of soccer among young kids also was a lure. Statistics released last May by the Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning showed that the number of children ages 0-4 has increased 45.43 percent in the last decade to 14,761 in 1990, up from 10,150 in 1980.

After retiring as a player, McAvan stayed with the Blast to work as a community relations director, and later opened the pro shop at the Edgewood Athletic Club.

But he found he missed being closely involved with the game itself.

"It wasn't enough for me. I'd lost that contact with the kids.I wanted to get more involved and be my own man."

While he wears a lot of hats helping to operate the arena, the job he loves the mostis coaching. And his lessons aren't missed by players.

"He teaches team play, not to be a ball hog, to pass it around," said Tony Evans, a 12-year-old who plays on the Havre de Grace 12-under team. "He likes to mix in a lot of people who maybe aren't as good as the other ones. He likes to have people try their best."

McAvan is proud of the Maryland Sports Arena, noting that before it opened most soccer clubs in the county played games in school basketball gyms. The drawbacks were many: hardwood floors, no sidewalls and goals that weren't stationary.

"Bobby has been a real plus for soccer in this area," says Linda Urban, treasurer of the Harford County Soccer Council that promotes soccer. "He works well with the kids, but best with the kidson a recreational level, kids that wouldn't have a chance to go anywhere else."

Said Chris Litras, president of the Greater Harford Soccer Club: "How Bobby relates to kids, how he teaches kids the game is probably the best I've seen in a long time."

McAvan's experiencewith the game is significant: He was a 1974-1975 member of the Scotland Junior National Team; in 1979-1980, he was a member of the Canadian Olympic and Pan Am teams; and in 1980-1981, he was a member of Canada's National League championship team, Toronto Italia.

"Look at those kids," said McAvan, his voice rising as he watched a game underway in the arena. "They're in a pit right there. They look up and see the fans screaming and yelling. This is their civic center, this istheir MISL championship game . . . at least for an hour it is."

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