By RON FANFAIR
If you play well, they will find you.
The Jamaica Soccer Federation has recruited players in Europe and North America with Jamaican heritage to boost both its men’s and women’s programs over the past few years.
Birchmount Collegiate graduate and LaSalle University freshman Zovel Hyre co-captained Jamaica in the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Associations of Football (CONCACAF) Under-20 and Under-17 championships in Mexico and Tobago respectively last year.
A few months ago, University of Buffalo graduate and Pickering resident Brooke McCalla answered the call to represent the land of her parents’ birth.
Women’s coach Vin Blaine got wind of McCalla’s exploits and contacted her uncle, former Harbour View captain and Jamaican national player, Junior Groves, who is the head coach and technical director with the locally based Shooting Stars Academy.
“It’s certainly an honour to know that you are wanted,” said McCalla, who is training at home and preparing to join the Jamaican women’s camp in the United States early next year. “I am looking forward to going there and making a meaningful contribution.”
The striker and basketball point guard at Pickering’s Dunbarton High School chose the University at Buffalo over Campbell University in North Carolina because of its close proximity to home and its reputation as a premier research-intensive public university dedicated to academic excellence.
“I was recruited by eight schools, but those were the only two that interested me and I picked Buffalo,” said McCalla, who graduated this year with a degree in health and human services. “The other thing was that the coach (Haitian-born Jean-Arnaud Tassy retired after 13 years at the end of the 2007 season) was caring and I got the impression that I was there to succeed academically as well as on the field.”
It did not take McCalla long to question whether she had made the right choice as her university won just five games in her freshman year.
“It was frustrating and I started to think this was a pattern that I would have to become accustomed to,” she said.
The All-Mid-American Conference (MAC) freshman team nominee was right.
The Bulls won 24 games, lost 41, tied eight and failed to make the MAC play offs in her four years there.
“It was disappointing, but I left everything I had on the field and I know that I am mentally prepared now for any challenge I will face in the sport because of the tough times I encountered,” said McCalla, who registered 14 goals and 15 assists.
Encouraged by Groves, McCalla began playing the sport at age seven. She made her house league debut four years later, led Dumbarton to the Tournament of Champions title in 2003 and was named female athlete of the year all four years in high school.
McCalla spent two seasons with Unionville Strikers of the Ontario Soccer League before securing a full soccer scholarship. She also represented the Toronto Lynx in the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
“Brooke has come a far way,” said Groves. “Her knowledge of the game is vast and she plays with great skill and flair. I know that she can contribute to the Jamaican women’s program.”
Representing the country of her birth would certainly have been McCalla’s first choice. She, however, was never invited to be part of the provincial program and was obviously not on the Canadian Soccer Association’s radar.
“Jamaica came calling and I am just happy to prove that I can play this game at a high level,” said McCalla who aspires to be a chiropractor or podiatrist when her playing days are over. “I have my education and I now want to go out there and have some fun.”