Soccer Academy Develops Young Athletes


Ryland Scott

On Nov. 9 senior Michelle White clears the ball out of the back in a home game against Georgia Impact.

Gabrielle Culberson, Staff Writer

Darlington’s Soccer Academy: the place where high school students have an educational experience and play competitive soccer against college teams. However, while the COVID-19 pandemic limited the operation of other soccer academies around Georgia, Darlington’s academy chartered a different course.

All games were canceled, so instead of playing, Darlington’s academy turned to college tours and kept practicing. Chad Liddle, director of the Soccer Academy, praised the way the Academy operated throughout the pandemic.

“How we operated through 2020 really showed resilience,” Liddle said, also expressing the ways in which the Academy maneuvered around the restrictions placed. He also noted how the soccer academy managed to play against colleges while still abiding by rules placed during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The program has been successful in getting players into college soccer. In the last 12 years, both boys’ teams and the girls’ team have visited over 1,000 colleges combined. In 2021 alone, the program placed 36 players into college programs: more than any school in the Rome, Georgia, area.

Freshman Savvy Palmer shared how she feels Darlington’s program varies from other experiences.

“At the Darlington Soccer Academy, I’m exposed to so many things my last club never offered, such as getting to visit different colleges, more one-on-one time,” Palmer said. “Not only do they work with you on the field but off of the field, too, with recovery and workouts.”

Palmer noted how she feels the Academy has helped her develop as a player.

“I have developed significantly in such a short amount of time and have become more confident on the ball,” Palmer said.

Tracy Hoza, the new head coach of the girls’ team, described the ways her life has been affected since joining the Academy.

“I get to coach, inspire, guide young female soccer players and student athletes from all over the USA and the world,” Hoza said. “Not many coaches can say that. People have different thought processes, and it’s all about how you interpret this and how you mesh them all together. It’s all about being a good human being.”

Not only does Hoza describe the ways that she gets to teach players but also the ways that the players teach her.

“With soccer, different countries will have a different identity around soccer,” Hoza said. “So, say in South America they would focus on skill, while in America they would focus more on fitness value.” 

The Darlington Soccer Academy also forms long-term bonds between players on and off the field.

New to the Darlington Soccer Academy, sophomore Maiya Barbar, described the team atmosphere.

My teammates make me very supported, they always try to push me to do my best.” Barbar said.

The Academy offers opportunities to play against older players (out of high school) and players of different sexes. The Academy prepares its players for college soccer, and helps them improve themselves through their sport.

“I sucked my freshman year. I had no confidence in myself,” senior Michelle White said. “I only started to become more confident near the end of my freshman year and have found many ways to improve myself. I would have more confidence in taking on players, and I would also practice and play against boys who were bigger and stronger than me, so I had to work harder in order to beat them.” 

White shared a final thought on her development.

“The Academy has helped me understand what my strengths and weaknesses are and where I would be able to thrive on the field and in college,” White said. “Being in the Academy has helped me realize how much I’m willing to commit and sacrifice in order to be a better player and person.”