The Alexandria Area Soccer Association hosts its Haitian Initiative Soccer Camp for the 20th year this week. The weeklong practices serve as a fundraiser for a cause bigger than sports – providing opportunities for a U11 team part of the Haitian Initiative. While Alexandria girls soccer head coach Tom Roos hoped this year would have been business as usual, the COVID-19 pandemic shook things up.
The operational aspect of the camp is slightly different from previous years. Kids report to the field they play on and avoid collaborating in large groups. All players must do a medical screening before the 9 a.m. practice starts.
"We all want to be safe, so we take precautions," Roos said. "Every kid does a health screening when they come in during attendance. If a kid doesn't pass the health screening, they can't play here. It's a challenge that all aspects of our society are dealing with right now."
The Alexandria high school soccer teams are patiently waiting for the MSHSL's decision on the incoming fall sports season. While the future is uncertain, the Cardinals will use this time to prepare and hope for the best.
"This is a great starting point for these girls," Roos said. "We bring in these guest coaches, and it brings them together. They're working hard and having a great time. After this, they will go in and have a couple of weeks of captain’s practices where they'll be coaching themselves. This week sets the tone for those captain’s practices."
If Roos has a season to coach in the fall, he feels confident about the team he's putting on the field.
"I feel very good about our group," Roos said. "We have a lot of returning players that bring a lot of skills and assets to the table. I think it's going to be a great time, and we can be a competitive group. We are all affected by the uncertainty, and it creates anxiety in all of our lives. Everybody shares that because we don't know what it's going to look like next week. We are going to join the moment we are in, and whatever happens in the fall will happen."
A big selling point for the fundraising camp is the guest coaches that come in and help out. This year, eight coaches came to Alexandria for the week with various soccer backgrounds. Some of them are familiar faces.
Pablo Campos and Geison Moura made the trip from the Twin Cities. The Brazillian soccer players played for the Minnesota United in Major League Soccer. Campos won an MLS title with Real Salt Lake in 2009. After several months of isolation, both decided that the Alexandria Area Soccer Association camp would be a safe environment.
"Everything is different now. This is the new normal," Moura said. "We are getting used to it. Kids are doing their best to stay distanced and bringing their own waters to practice. The groups are smaller than they would be. It's the same situation down in Minneapolis. There wasn't any concern coming back up here because we know how they run this camp. Everybody is doing their part."
Campos said he believes that events like this are important. Not only is it a chance to help young players grow in the sport, but also get out of the house for a good cause.
"Everything we do nowadays, we have to make adjustments," Campos said. "Sports are about dealing with problems, failure and success. Getting kids out safely is important because if these kids are at home too much, it affects their mental health. We have to move slowly as a society. We accelerated so many things because of COVID-19. They might not play games over the next two months, but stuff like this is good."
Moura is in Alexandria for the fourth time coaching this camp, and as long as Roos gives him the invite, he will keep attending.
"It always means a lot for me to be here," Moura said. "Tom has done a great job of putting this together. He doesn't even need to put in a lot of effort to get us to come because the mission is so important. We've all been at home for so long. That's why I looked forward to sharing the things we've learned with these kids for a good cause."
The money raised is going to a U11 boys team affiliated with the Haitian Initiative. The camp is part of the Jack Schneider Memorial Fund – a cause that serves a bigger purpose.
"The camp helps fund these boys' education and an after-school soccer program," Roos said. "The funds go directly to Haiti. The kids get clean drinking water and a meal every day. We bring in some of the best coaches from around the Midwest so these kids can learn. It's a win-win."