Wednesday, December 16, 2020
Many parents face that difficult moment when their child becomes an adult and leaves the home to attend college hundreds of miles away. Now picture going through that with a child barely 15 years of age.
A member of the club since the age of seven, Zac Olson and his family worked through that exact experience, facing the challenging decision of taking advantage of an opportunity versus fear of the unknown for their young son as they explored sending him to Barca Academy in Arizona.
After several months of flirting with the idea during back-and-forth correspondence with the academy regarding tryouts, things rapidly developed in late July / early August where they needed to make several life-changing decisions in quick succession that would find Zac moving 1,300 miles away from home.
A quickly rising standout in the club, Zac achieved great success in 2019. He was a member of the Eastern Washington EPD side that participated at the January Region IV ODP Championships and in March earned an invite to the Region IV ODP Camp later that summer for his play at the event. Also in March his U14 Spokane Sounders side captured the RCL Division 1 championship with two games remaining on the season.
Then, 2020 hit…
The arrival of COVID-19 and shutdown of sports and training led to a lot of frustration for players, parents and coaches throughout the region. Among them were the Olsons.
“In the spring — during the beginning of COVID — I signed up to receive letters from Barca Academy because of the limited touches Zac was getting,” said his father Jim Olson. “I was trying to find places and opportunities for Zac to get some playing time, not knowing what the next few months would look like. As we got closer to summer we received notification that the Regional ODP camp that Zac was selected for was cancelled.”
All spring, Zac would go down by himself to the neighborhood elementary school to kick his soccer ball off the cement walls. Then during the summer he would go to Rocky Hill and shoot on the goals down there, often for two hours a day.
“Zac often asked about the Barca Academy camp dates, but every time I got an email the camp dates seemed to run into a scheduling conflict. Finally in late July, I received an email that a tryout camp was added to the weekend of August 14-16. It just so happened we were on vacation that weekend. We discussed the thought of going to a tryout camp versus a regular camp.
“Zac decided that it would be a good opportunity to play against highly skilled players to see how he would do. It would also give him the opportunity to play in a group setting, something he hadn’t really done much of since February. So we booked the flights for us to go down. I have a sister who lives 50 miles from Casa Grande which gave me the opportunity to visit her while he was at the camp.”
They flew home from the Barca Academy tryout camp on Monday the 17th and two days later received the phone call that the coach wanted him to come down and play. The Olsons had four days to make a very quick decision as to whether or not he would go, as he would need to return to Arizona by the end of the following week, August 27th or 28th.
From the point of the camp email to final arrival in Arizona, everything would transpire in the course of roughly one month for Zac, who was very excited and grateful for the unique opportunity.
“At this point, we considered all the options. If he stayed in Spokane, he would be doing school alone at home online. In addition, there would be no team soccer for him anytime soon. We all sat down and weighed the benefits versus cons. Zac definitely decided that this was an opportunity that would move him closer to reaching his goals.”
“At first Debbie and I were really nervous. Some of the things that helped when making the decision was the fact that I have a sister that lives in Tucson, only 50 miles from campus.”
They arrived in Arizona on August 27 and had two days to get him settled in his room and started on getting familiar with the ins and outs of the campus. Additionally, Zac had two weeks of schoolwork to catch up on as the academy had already begun classes on the 17th.
“It was hard to leave him there for both of us since he just turned 15 three weeks before dropping him off. Once we got him settled into his room and met the staff there, we felt so much better. There is a Resident Advisor available and on call 24/7 and they took very good care of us on our first day there.
“We met the coaches the first day and their enthusiasm was amazing. The coach grabbed one of the boys that had been there for about a year and made him Zac’s wingman and told him to take care of him. It was all very reassuring.”
The campus was in lockdown so once they were there they could not leave their campus ‘bubble’ except for games, which included a pair of tournaments that were close by in Phoenix.
The education at Barca Academy is provided by Arizona State University Prep Academy of Casa Grande and is located right on the campus. Zac goes to school Mon-Thurs with Fridays left open for teacher meetings with students. Meanwhile, he trains four days a week with strength and conditioning three days a week.
“Everything I’ve learned from the club since day one has prepared me for this experience,” said Zac about being a member of the Spokane Sounders / Shadow since age seven. “The coaches have been awesome and I have learned so much from all of them, especially Jesse Retan and Mike Pellicio.
And though the northwest summers can be hot in August, Arizona was a whole other matter.
“When I first arrived in August, we trained at 8:00 pm at night and it was still 104 degrees. The heat took some time to get used to. It is also nice to have the fields on site and being able to walk to them from my room.
“Everything we do here revolves around soccer. The meals we get are very nutritious which has taught me about the importance of eating healthy, we watch and discuss recorded games with our coaches on a regular basis, and the professional training environment is outstanding.”
League games are played on the weekends and his team was in the Arizona State League Division 1. They finished the fall season undefeated 8-0-2 with six shutouts and 30 goals for and five goals allowed.
Though Zac is thousands of miles away from his close-knit family, technology has kept that distance at virtual arm’s reach.
“I think the biggest challenge for us is not being able to give him hugs and just see him everyday. We both miss not being able to watch him play live, however, the games are all recorded and we are able to watch them several days later.
“I really miss playing soccer and mountain biking with him. I think for him, it’s just hanging out with his mom and dad watching a movie and knowing we are nearby for him.
“Facetime has been great and we talk to him 2-3 times a day. We are even able to help with homework and watch movies virtually. We take turns traveling to see him about every 4-6 weeks which has helped us deal with having him so far away.”
Zac is home for Christmas vacation mid-December to Jan 4th. They will finish up school and soccer sometime in middle to late May, when he will return home for the summer.