Putnam Impact seeks to establish community soccer
By Brandon Bush, Putnam Impact Soccer Club
Putnam County’s cup has been running over in soccer lately.
Putnam County Middle School’s boysteam just won a championship while the two varsity teams’ postseasons get underway this week. Despite the success these teams have been finding, many still feel hesitant to call Eatonton a “soccer town.”
There are others, however, who are working to change that.
Putnam Impact, a soccer club based in Eatonton, is an organization that provides youth with a positive environment in which they can learn all about playing the game of soccer. In addition to teaching the game to young athletes interested in the sport, Putnam Impact also serves a more important role: teaching sportsmanship and leadership skills to youth as well as providing guidance, instilling respect and preparing them to be successful in the future.
After his involvement at the Putnam County Recreation Department, Putnam Impact co-founder, director of coaching and head coach of several teams, Tim Gilbert, was approached by other co-founders Jamey Nichols and Melanie Williams in 2015 regarding travel soccer. Gilbert was interested but suggested a different approach.
“We said ‘let’s take younger kids and teach them,’” Gilbert said. “We wanted to make grades a part of it, we wanted to make them read every day, we wanted to make integrity, respect and character a part of it. Now, we’re at six teams with a lot of kids, and a lot of them are going on to play for [Putnam County High School].”
With most participants ranging from ages 8-16, Putnam Impact fields a number of teams that compete in various age groups. Though the first few teams that the club fielded were boys teams, Putnam Impact has also recently begun to implement female teams; just recently, Putnam Impact’s second girls team was created to begin practice this summer and start playing in the fall, recruiting girls born from 2003-2004 and possibly a few born in 2005.
The club is unique in that it is a nonprofit organization. The coaches are unpaid and almost all expenses are paid through donations and fundraisers, and there are no registration fees for participants wishing to sign up. This contrasts with most soccer clubs from larger cities that require registration fees as well as having access to high-end equipment and facilities, large corporate sponsorships and more resources for things such as coaches’ salaries.
Yet, since beginning operations in 2015 with just two teams of 27 players, Putnam Impact has been competitive on every level. In the club’s inaugural year, Putnam Impact’s 2001 Under 16 (U16) team went 10-3-2 and went on to win the McDonald’s Cup. Since then, Putnam Impact has seen success across all of its teams, with the 2004 U14 team winning the 22nd annual Aiken South Carolina Soccer Cup last September.
Because the club is not affiliated with the Putnam County School System, Putnam Impact takes it upon itself to police its members. All participants must have all As and Bs in school and must be reading at a grade level above their current one. All participants are also held to a standard in which they respect themselves and others, play with sportsmanship and make good life choices.
Ultimately, the goal of Putnam Impact is to provide a positive environment for those who wish to play soccer that also prepares them for a bright future. Bernabe Meraz, a young athlete who has previously played with Putnam Impact, called the experience “a life program disguised as a soccer club.”
“They taught me so much,” Putnam Impact member Brian Lopez said. “I’ve improved on things like first touches and kicks. At first, I didn’t really care much about soccer, but I’ve learned about becoming a leader and not a follower. I feel I’ve really changed a lot, and I hope I can help others, too.”
Putnam Impact soccer players not only go on to play for the middle and high school, but also branch out to other surrounding schools such as Morgan and Greene County High Schools. Despite going their separate ways, all involved with Putnam Impact consider each other family.
“One time, we were preparing for the final game of a tournament, and we usually break it down on ‘one, two, three...Impact!’ or something similar,” Gilbert said while explaining an experience with the team. “One day, they said ‘Coach, today we got this,’ and I thought, ‘Uh-oh, what are they going to say?’ You never know with kids today, but when they did it, they said ‘one, two, three...family!’ You can’t beat that.”