As it is throughout most of the world, soccer is a very popular sport along the Alabama Gulf Coast. High school championships have been captured by Bayside, Fairhope, McGill-Toolen, St. Paul’s, Spanish Fort and UMS-Wright. Outstanding programs can also be found at the local college level.
Hoping to expand on this success is a new squad, AFC Mobile. The minor league Association Football Club opens its first season May 14, hosting the Gulf Coast Texans.
Two members of the organization — Abram Chamberlain, president of AFC Mobile, and Mitchell Kahalley, the team’s director of communications — recently sat down with Lagniappe to discuss how the team came together.
Chamberlain played soccer as a youth in Massachusetts and with a club team while attending Tuskegee University. A few years ago, he went to Pensacola to watch some soccer action.
“I joked and said, we could do this in Mobile,” Chamberlain said. “We took that idea and said, let’s see what happens. It kept growing from there.”
AFC Mobile first started supporting a youth team in the city league. They also backed the Mobile American Outlaws, one of the oldest fan clubs in Alabama for the men and women’s U.S. National Soccer Teams.
When the Gulf Coast Premier League (GCPL) added a franchise in Biloxi, the idea of forming a men’s team began to take shape. “League officials called and asked what was our ultimate goal,” Chamberlain said. “They felt a team in Mobile was a good fit.”
“The GCPL is what would be considered a fourth-tier level,” said Kahalley, who got hooked on soccer while watching the European Championships in 2008 during a family trip to Italy. “Major League Soccer is the top tier. If you compared it to baseball, the GCPL would be Single A.”
In January, the league officially expanded to Mobile, Pensacola and Baton Rouge. Since that time, the effort to build a club has been snowballing.
The Birmingham Hammers are members of the National Premier Soccer League. Chamberlain knows their founders, who have given AFC Mobile much guidance on how to get the ball rolling. Clubs in New Orleans and Biloxi have also offered advice.
The grassroots-based organization started a Go Fund Me account, which has surpassed $3,000. This money will be used for equipment and travel costs.
Haint Blue Brewing Co. has signed on as the major sponsor. “We could not do this without them,” Kahalley said. “By raising money through the internet to start brewing in Mobile, they are doing with beer what we are doing with soccer.”
The next job was to find a coach. They scored in getting Nate Nicholas to lead the way. The current coach at McGill-Toolen, he previously directed UMS-Wright to a pair of state titles.
“Our regular season and playoffs run from May through July, so it will not interfere with the high school teams,” Chamberlain said.
Then began the search for a home field. The final choice was the Archbishop Lipscomb Athletic Complex — also known as The Lip — located on Michael Boulevard.
“It was the best facility for what we wanted to do,” Chamberlain said. “McGill-Toolen and the Archdiocese have been fantastic. I believe we’ll have a really great atmosphere there.”
Team tryouts took place April 1 at Sage Park. A preliminary roster was released April 15, but the final roster will include 22 players, and another four to five players will be placed on a practice squad.
“Players must be at least 18 years old and be done with high school eligibility,” Chamberlain said. “A lot of the guys are home from college, who want to play during the summer. Others have played some professional ball.
“There is no pay, since many still have NCAA eligibility. This league is for those guys who love the game and want the exposure. We hope to play in front of some decent-size crowds. This league will help to not let their skills diminish over the summer.”
All home games will begin at 7 p.m. After opening with the Pensacola club, the remaining home schedule will include Biloxi City FC on June 10, Louisiana Fire SC on June 24, Gaffa FC on July 1 and CD Motagua of New Orleans on July 7. Admission is $5 for those 13 years and older, while season tickets are $20.
“We really want to give the people of Mobile a place to play and a place to be seen,” Kahalley said. “In this area, we have three colleges and a lot of high schools that play soccer.
“In the past, we have been on different sides cheering against each other. Now we can give them a team they can all rally behind.”
For additional information, visit www.afcmobile.net or call 251-272-9507. The team’s Facebook page is AFCMobile.
Tornados fall just short
The Mobile Bay Tornados entered the ABA national basketball playoffs in Baltimore, Maryland, as the No. 5 seed. They quickly opened with an upset, knocking off the fourth-seeded Austin Bats 122-102.
Next up was a semifinal showdown with defending champions the Jacksonville Giants. It went down to the wire, but the Giants hung on for a 109-107 victory. The title game was a rout as Jacksonville blew past the Windy City Groove 120-102.
The Tornados qualified for the national tournament by winning the Gulf Coast Division and the Southeast Regional. They finished with a 15-2 record. Erick Thrash was named an ABA all-star after averaging 30 points, 10 assists and 3 rebounds per game.
Gymnasts tumble into Mobile
The 2017 USA Gymnastics Region 8 Championships for Levels 6, 7 and 8 take place Friday through Sunday (April 21-23) at the Mobile Convention Center. More than 1,000 young athletes from 250 gyms across the Southeast will compete in beam, bars, floor and vault.
The meet is presented by the Mobile Sports Authority in conjunction with Mobile-based Planet Gymnastics and Visit Mobile. Daily admission is $15 for adults and $10 for seniors and children (5 and under are free); a two-day pass costs $25 for adults and $20 for seniors and children; a three-day pass costs $35 for adults and $30 for seniors and children (ages 6-18 for children, 62 and over for seniors). For more information, visit www.usagym.org or www.region8gymnastics.org.