Austin, Decatur soccer players working international contest
By Bradley Handwerger
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When the soccer ball crosses the sidelines Thursday night at the Jack Allen Recreation Complex, look closely at who tosses a new ball to the players to throw back into play.
It won't be anyone from either the Mexican or Argentine women's national soccer teams.
Though those are the two clubs competing in the 7:30 p.m. match, you're more likely to recognize the ball girls.
That's because Kelly Varnell, recreation coordinator for Decatur Park and Recreation, chose to let girls soccer players from Austin High and Decatur High handle that job.
"It's a benefit to us to have the schools willing to assist in different events brought into Decatur," Varnell said.
"That helps us cover our responsibilities."
As of Monday afternoon, the entire list of ball girls had not been submitted to Varnell, but at least two girls knew they'd be participating.
Decatur High players Georgia Gamble and Megan Schmidt both sounded excited about the opportunity.
"It's kind of a once in a lifetime thing," Gamble said. "Not many international games are played in Decatur. When they asked, I thought it would be fun."
A year ago, when the Alabama Youth Soccer Association brought a similar event to the Jack, players from Austin's girls soccer team got the opportunity . In that game, Duke's women beat Mexico's women's national team 1-0 in front of more than 3,000 fans.
Schmidt said she expects the energy from a year ago to spill over to this year's event.
"I think it's going to be a lot like that, or maybe even better," Schmidt said. "So many people heard about it last year. They're excited more."
Thursday's match is a part of a round-robin tournament being played throughout Alabama. Games began Sunday in Birmingham with the U.S. women's under-21 squad beating China 2-0 and Mexico defeating Canada 1-0.
Games will continue during the week in Montgomery, Tuscaloosa and Huntsville before finishing up in Mobile with a tripleheader.
But Thursday night, for one group of girls, is a big opportunity to see world-class soccer in their hometown at field level.
For Gamble, it's another opportunity to talk soccer.
"I'm going to talk to the coaches and see if they have any advice on how to go anywhere with soccer," Gamble said "It'll be really cool to talk to the players and see what it's like to play on a team that travels to different countries."
Advance tickets cost $12 and move up to $16 on game day. They're available at the Jack from noon to 5 p.m.; and Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets also may be purchased online at www.alabamayouthsoccer.org.
Argentina will hold an open practice at the complex at 3 p.m. Wednesday.
The team will be available for autographs and photos following practice.
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