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hile football reigns king in South Geor- gia, futbol is gaining a foothold.

Soccer, known globally as “futbol,” is

the world’s most popular game and the fastest growing team sport in America. If the coast-to-coast television coverage of the World Cup and the proliferation of club leagues and backyard pickup games are any indication, more and more Americans are turning on to this most international of activities. And nowhere is the upward trend more evi- dent than in the quickly evolving world of South Georgia soccer. At the forefront of that revolution is

Mike Wallace, who started Georgia United Futbol Club (GUFC) in August 2009 with just six teams. Tis fall, its

took club soccer as far as it could in the region. “Now it’s time to go to the na- tional level, time to give these kids an- other platform to play on for people to see them.” Moving to ASG is a win-win proposi-

tion to Wallace. Not only will area players get more national exposure but ASG’s South Georgia sprawl will in- crease the total number of club soccer players in the area. In short, ASG Georgia is taking soccer to the masses. “We wanted to go national and we needed more players and resources to do that,” says Wallace. “To be able to bring more players in we felt we needed to expand ourselves into others areas and cities so that there wouldn’t be so much travel.” Wallace estimates 65 percent of his players come from outside Colquitt

end tournament held on fields in Moultrie, Tomasville, Cairo, and Tal- lahassee. “We have the sites now to run a tournament that big,” says Wallace, who predicts the event will have the fi- nancial impact on Moultrie that the Rose City Tournament, long the area’s largest soccer invitational, has had on Tomasville. “It’s going to be a boost to the economy of Moultrie.” What has caused the meteoric rise of

club soccer in South Georgia? Wallace says it is because he runs a different kind of sports program. “My philoso- phy is not so much about soccer,” says Wallace. “When you can present a pro- gram where you have good morals and character, you don’t have to cuss kids, and in the long run you have parents that want to be involved in that.” Wallace, a devout Christian, sees

“We are providing a service that makes young men and women better at life.

third in operation, the program will expand to 11 teams in three different towns and play under a new banner as ASG Georgia. ASG, the Associated Soccer Group, is

a premier national youth soccer organ- ization with clubs in Texas, Florida, and coastal Georgia. Wallace says the sudden spike in the popularity of South Georgia’s club soccer scene ne- cessitated the new affiliation. ASG Georgia unites two of the largest soccer clubs in the area, Moultrie’s GUFC and Tomasville’s Tomasville Area Soccer Association (TASA). Te new club will play an expanded schedule, traveling far beyond the state of Georgia, and allow the premier players in the area to play on national teams abroad. In the past, ASG national teams have played in international tournaments in Ar- gentina and Holland against national teams from around the world. “We’re going to just open up some eyes of kids and parents as to how good these kids can be,” says Wallace, who says GUFC

County from families willing to shoul- der the financial burden, even in tough economic times, to take part in travel soccer. “We have kids driving over from Bainbridge, Tomasville, Cairo, Leesburg, Valdosta, Hahira, Sylvester, Tiſton,” says Wallace. “A lot of these kids have known me from the past and called when I came back.” Moving to ASG will allow Wallace the opportu- nity to run clubs in Moultrie, Tomasville, and Cairo. “It’s humbling that we have kids who want to drive an hour and workout with us,” says Wal- lace. “But if we have three or four kids that are willing to do that we want to go to them to make it economically feasible for families that want to come in.”

Te club will expand to Bainbridge in

the near future and will host the area’s first Adidas Cup Tournament, named for the club’s primary sponsor, this up- coming February. Modeled aſter a sim- ilar event in Texas, the Adidas Cup will pull in around 170 teams for a week-

his position as a ministry and says he is more mentor than coach. “Te rela- tionships we build are more on a godly plan than anything else,” says Wallace. “I want these kids to see the Lord through me.” It is that personal touch and spiritual

connection that has enabled his pro- gram to grow since its inception. Says Wallace, “Everyone says, ‘We care about the kids,’ but we really do.” For- mer GUFC player and recent Colquitt County High graduate Laura Hill Ban- nister agrees. “Coach Mike is the most compassionate man that I know,” says Bannister. “He’s like a second dad to us.”

“Mike is a very strong Christian and

he’s not shy about sharing that part of his life with adults and children that are involved with the program,” says Ben Marion, who helped hire Wallace and has volunteered with the program since its onset. Marion calls Wallace the best coach he has ever worked with.

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