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Youth soccer players from northwest Ohio have been playing at Sylvania's Pacesetter Park for decades, but this week many of them experienced something they have never experienced before.
Players of all ages participated in a camp led by several former pro players from England, who traveled here at the request of Pacesetter coach Jim Walker Jr.
Walker a former U.S. pro, is originally from Birmingham, England, and is the son of a 15-year pro for England's Derby County team.
Incoming senior Eliot Browarsky, 17, a standout midfielder last year at Ottawa Hills, said he has participated in Pacesetter's program since he was 7, but this week's camp was like no other for him.
"It's not every day you get to play with the top players in the world," Browarsky said.
"It's been a really great experience to be around the likes of former English Premier and national team players."
Walker said he organized the camp because he wanted to offer Pacesetter youths something they could not get anywhere else.
"It's an opportunity to provide some coaching that is a little bit unique, especially to kids in the area," he said.
"This [camp] is the equivalent of NBA players coming to Europe to run a basketball camp for the kids there."
Players included Mark Delaney, a former fullback for Birmingham, England's Aston Villa Football Club, who currently coaches for the Aston Villa Academy, and Dennis Bailey, a 19-year pro most famous for scoring the last hat trick against Manchester United.
They said they participated in the camp primarily because of their relationship with Walker and his father.
"I thought it was a good opportunity to not only to see the country, but also to do something for the kids," Bailey said. "These [kids], they really are privileged. They probably don't even know who they've got on hand."
Jim Walker Sr. also was on hand He said the technical skills of players here are not as good as the young players back in his country and that learning from English coaches should help their game.
"You don't get as good of coaching necessarily with the U.S. coaches as with the English coaches," Jim Sr. said. "If each boy, or girl, learns one little thing then you've gotten what you want then, don't you?"
Delaney said passing down the knowledge he's gained to American youths has been enjoyable.
"We've just tried to work on a little bit of defensive work, offensive work, a bit of dribbling," he said. "I've worked with a lot of good coaches. If I can give some of my training back, that's great."
Northview's A.J. Klever, 17, said he's never worked with English Premier League coaches before and that this opportunity was a "once in a lifetime chance."
"They just know what they're talking about," he said. "They're more advanced than the coaches we typically work with. Hopefully one day I'll be up at that level."
Jim Walker Jr. said he'd like to continue having camps like this one in the future to help soccer's appeal continue to grow in northwest Ohio the way it has in the past.
"It's definitely developing," he said. "You got some really talented kids coming out of here. It's going to take time. It's going to take the kids who are here having kids who have kids who play soccer."
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