Selbyville Middle soccer team has the bar set

Stepping in as a new coach in a sport you haven’t exactly mastered is never a simple thing to do, but in his fifth year as head soccer coach at Selbyville Middle, Neal Barch is once again making the position look like second nature.

Coastal Point • Ruslana Lambert: Players test their skills during a preseason scrimmage match earlier this week.Coastal Point • Ruslana Lambert
Players test their skills during a preseason scrimmage match earlier this week.

Upon taking a teaching position in the 2004-2005 school year, he was simply looking for whatever else he could accomplish at the school. Since then, he’s led the Selbyville Middle School soccer team to establish itself, capturing numerous undefeated seasons, including last year’s 14-0 record.

Barch was welcomed as an addition to the sports program, working alongside helpful and experienced individuals like Howard Gerkin, Steve Kilby, Tim Lee and Phil Mead.

“I’ve learned a lot from the staff and other coaches since I started,” he said, “and they’ve really made it easy for me.”

The Selbyville Middle boys’ soccer success began in the 1998-1999 school year, when the team only slipped in one game. Barch took to the fields as quickly as the players themselves.

“I had coached other sports and taught for some time,” he said, “so it was an easy transition to get back out there with the kids.”

Despite the team’s lead scorer from last year moving up to Indian River High School this year, Barch is confident he can bring the title back in the fall of 2008. For one thing, he’ll have plenty of talent to work with. This fall marks the first time that students in sixth grade can participate in middle-school sports (excluding football), as permitted by the school board last winter.

Barch, who also coaches SMS’s girls’ soccer team, saw a resulting increase in numbers this spring, when his roster jumped up from around 30 to nearly 60. Teams at SMS in the past teetered around 40 for the boys (middle school JV and varsity), though those numbers have already shown a climb.

Six starters from last year’s undefeated roster will be returning again this year.

Barch’s current knowledge of the game screams across the record books, as the girls finished 9-1 this past spring season, their most successful year, yet.

He noted that he is pleased to be able to contribute a feeder program to help develop young students through early stages in their athletic career.

“It’s tough, sometimes, especially with soccer,” he said. “We’re still fighting the battle of first-generation soccer players. There aren’t too many kids whose parents will go outside with them and kick a ball around. Most kids have baseball, football and basketball growing up.”

For Barch, however, soccer is becoming more and more of a knack, as he works with a variety of skilled players.

“A lot of these guys have been playing for clubs and come in with years of experience already. We also have some come out to try something new, or maybe it’s something they hadn’t tried but their friends have.”
Coastal Point • Ruslana Lambert: Players test their skills during a preseason scrimmage match earlier this week.Coastal Point • Ruslana Lambert
Players test their skills during a preseason scrimmage match earlier this week.

As high schools in Delaware were divided into the Henlopen North and South divisions, so have middle schools been – but based on geographical location rather than on the size of the school.

“It gets costly for the kids to travel,” said a discouraged Barch, “and the school board won’t cover it. The downside is we only play the small schools around us. These kids aren’t being tested at all the skill levels they need to develop. We don’t see the big schools like Caesar Rodney and Smyrna”

The Selbyville Middle School boys’ soccer team will begin their season at Delmar on Sept. 17 at 4 p.m. They will play host to Delmar on Monday, Sept. 22, at Selbyville Middle at 4 p.m.