SAC-HC losing Stara as coaching director

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

February 13, 2005|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

BILL STARA, honored last month for the second time by his peers as a national coach of the year, has resigned as coaching director of the 6,000-player Soccer Association of Columbia-Howard County.

Stara, 47, a teacher at River Hill High School and coach of the school's dominant boys soccer team, said he wanted to extend the paid, part-time SAC-HC job into a full-time position but that he and the youth club could not agree on terms.

"Sometime in the future, I'd like to be a full-time director of a club that wants to do all the right things to teach the sport, as well as compete at a high level, and I was hoping that SAC was the right fit," said Stara, a one-time pro indoor goalkeeper. "I've been with SAC for a long time, but obviously, the club was not interested in going in the same direction I want to go, or at least at the pace I wanted to go."

Both he and David Procida, president of the organization, which is Maryland's second-largest youth soccer club, characterized the separation as a philosophical disagreement.

"He gave us a proposal, and most of it was fine," said Procida. "The biggest problem we had was possibly making a long-term financial commitment that we felt we couldn't make at this time. ... Bill's a special guy in both the soccer community and in Howard County, and he's going to continue coaching with us, and we're glad to have him."

Said Stara, who first coached in the club in 1982 and was named coaching director in October 2000: "For me to continue on, I felt there had to be some changes, ultimately with the part-time job evolving into full-time. But I'm not angry, I'm not mad - just disappointed."

Stara, who is nearing 25 years as a county teacher and has a son who will graduate next year from River Hill, has pursued other coaching options in the past. He took an abortive dip into pro soccer as assistant coach for the ill-conceived Maryland Mania pro team in late 1998 and 1999, and later applied to be the Virginia soccer association's coaching director.

He said again Friday that he continues to explore other options in youth soccer.

While the SAC-HC job might seem parochial, the experience helped Stara's predecessor, John Ellinger, land a high-profile coaching job with the U.S. Soccer Federation. Ellinger is now head coach of a new Major League Soccer team in Salt Lake City.

Stara said he felt "we made some headway in coaching education and in player development" during his SAC-HC tenure.

Procida credited him with improving education for the club's dozens of youth coaches, many of them fathers or mothers starting out in the sport with their young children, as well as "dovetailing" better rec-level teams with the club's extensive, more competitive travel teams.

"He brought a lot of good coaches into the club," said Procida.

With Stara's two-year SAC-HC contract due to end Dec. 31, he and Procida said they had begun talking informally last summer about a new arrangement. The talks extended into this year but reached impasse last month, Procida said.

Stara coaches an under-17 boys travel team for the club - a squad of mostly county players who won a prestigious, college-recruitment tournament in Tampa, Fla., over the Christmas holidays.

"I want to coach them again this spring and maybe next year, as well," Stara said. Teams that age are often kept together in the springtime, even when boys disperse into colleges at age 18, in pursuit of U.S. Youth Soccer Association national championships. SAC-HC teams have won six such titles, the most recent being back-to-back in 1996 and 1997 under Ellinger.

The victory by Stara's team in Florida was spiced last month when he was named a national high school coach of the year by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America during its annual convention in Baltimore. The same group honored Stara as its national youth, or club-level, coach of the year in 1994. He is the first coach to win both honors.

Stara's high school teams at Centennial High School and, since it opened eight years ago, River Hill, have combined to win 13 state championships, the most for any Maryland coach.

A softball struggle

The county's smallest youth softball group, playing under the Atholton Youth Recreation Association flag, seems about to fold for lack of players and adult support. AYRA softball is a separately run operation from AYRA baseball.

Ralph Albano, who was able to keep three AYRA teams afloat last spring, said he cannot continue this year because of increased volunteer work with the larger Savage Boys and Girls Club's soccer program and that no other adults have stepped forward.

Only six girls from last year's teams have expressed interest in playing this spring, an ominous sign, he said, adding: "We're still trying, but I'm afraid that's the direction we're heading."

If the club disbands, Albano said, girls who want to play will be directed to Savage and to the Howard County Youth Program.

Call the writer at 410-332- 6525 or send e-mail to lowell. sunderland@baltsun.com.

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