Young and old get a kick out of legend's appearance
• Photo gallery: Mia Hamm
By Leila Wai
Advertiser Staff Writer
WAIPAHU — It was a clinic in which the instructors were just as excited — if not more — as the participants.
And with soccer legend Mia Hamm — who scored more international goals (158) in her career than any other player, male or female, in the history of soccer — as the headliner, it was easy to understand why.
Hamm is here for the Mia Hamm Hawaii Soccer Camp hosted by the Blitz Futbol Club at the Waipi'o Peninsula Soccer Park, which began yesterday and runs through tomorrow for players 7-younger through 19.
The players, Hamm said, showed a high level of respect and enthusiasm for the game.
"You can see there's this strong sense of community and family," Hamm said. "And they had great energy."
Hamm, who helped the U.S. win gold in both the World Cup and Olympics, retired from soccer in 2004, the same year a few of the camp participants were born. She is arguably the most well known female soccer player in U.S. history.
"I was in awe," said camp instructor Ambree Ako, a former star forward for the University of Hawai'i. "Not everyday you get to see a person like Mia Hamm.
"It's pretty cool to work with her because you get to hear what she has to say, and what she has to teach the kids."
Ako, a former Western Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year, is familiar with scoring goals. But, she said, "It would be pretty sick to learn how to shoot from Mia Hamm. Hello, opportunity. Best-case scenario in the world. Take it."
The camp focused on fundamentals such as striking, possession, trapping and skills.
"With Hawai'i being away from the Mainland, you don't get that opportunity and that exposure, and some really good players have come out of here," said Hamm, who cited Kahuku's Natasha Kai as an example.
Hamm, who was working with striking the ball, focused on shooting with the foot with which players are least comfortable.
"It's to try to find comfort with things you're not comfortable with," she said. "It's not just soccer. It's everything in life. If you don't feel comfortable with something, you're not as confident, and you have to work on it."
Alyssa Dela Pena, 9, took that message to heart.
"She's great," Dela Pena said. "I learned about shooting; locking your ankle and not bending back."
Dela Pena said when Hamm demonstrated shooting, "I thought the goal was going to break."
Dela Pena's mother is a former soccer player who coaches the Moanalua girls varsity team.
"I hope this will be a memorable experience," Nikki Dela Pena said. "Not only to learn a soccer skill, but to have a memory."
Her daughter, she said, was unfamiliar with Hamm's accomplishments before the clinic.
"But after she learned who she was, she had to do a report for school and she chose to do it on (Hamm)," said Dela Pena, who admitted to initially being more excited about Hamm coming than her daughter.
Previously, Hawai'i brought in some of top talent nationally to help with youth camps.
Every year, Kamehameha Schools alum Brian Ching and a few of his fellow Major League Soccer cohorts helped with the ProXtreme Soccer Camp in the winter. Members of the U.S. Women's National Team were in Hawai'i in 2007 with Kai to hold clinics as part of a goodwill tour. Later that year, soccer star Brandi Chastain was also here to hold a clinic with her Chastain Soccer Academy.
But for years, Hamm was the undisputed face of women's soccer in America, and her contributions to the game helped to elevate it to its highest level.
"It was just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said organizer Shawn Kuroda, who coaches for Blitz FC. "This was a huge opportunity for the boys and girls in Hawai'i to learn from her."
Kuroda said a healthy relationship with the Slammers Futbol Club of Southern California helped the clinic come together. Blitz FC sends teams to the prestigious Slammers FC Classic, and Hamm helps out with the Slammers.
Kuroda said if players are still interested in attending the clinic, he might be able to accommodate them. Call him at 372-7883.
Note: Tryouts for the Blitz Futbol Club, for boys (age 6 to 13) and girls (age 6 to 16), are June 5 and 6 from 10 a.m. to noon at Waiau District Park. For more information go to blitzsoccerhawaii.com.