Northeast Ohio isnâ€™t traditionally known as a breeding ground for professional athletes. (NBA phenom LeBron James, a native of Akron, is a notable exception.)
But Brad Friedel is working to change that. The international soccer star, one of the highest paid and most sought-after goalies in the sport, was raised in Bay Village. Heâ€™s coming back home to establish the Brad Friedel Premier Soccer Academy in Amherst, in Lorain County.
â€œThe academy could be anywhere, but heâ€™s coming back to his roots,â€ says Chris Carmon, president and CEO of The Carmon Group Cos. and a member of the academyâ€™s founders committee.
The academy will serve as a training facility for the next professional soccer superstars.
â€œWeâ€™re not out here to run a camp just to make money,â€ Friedel says. â€œWeâ€™re trying to change the face of youth soccer development in a positive way and you have to start somewhere and I wanted to start in my hometown.â€
Friedel has been working to make the academy a reality for the past five years. He finally has the right investors and idea people on board to help him make his dream come alive.
The academy will be built on nearly 23 acres of what was once the Emerald Valley Golf Course. The facility will consist of three and a half state-of-the-art outdoor soccer fields, housing for up to 64 people and an indoor arena.
The project will cost between $8 million and $10 million, with nearly $2 million being set aside for an operational endowment fund. News of the academy planned for Northeast Ohio has already spread to some of the furthest corners of the world. And kids are being scouted in countries such as Brazil, South Africa and Australia.
Friedel has assembled a team of some of the worldâ€™s top soccer pros to assist him with the academy. His goal is to give young people the same opportunities he received growing up, with the hope of opening doors to the professional world of sports for many who wouldnâ€™t have the chance otherwise.
By a stroke of luck (and a lot of talent), Friedel became an international star. In the right place at the right time, Friedelâ€™s rise to fame began while playing soccer for Bay High. A scout from UCLA happened to see him play and recruited him with a scholarship.
From 1989 to 1992, Friedel served as UCLAâ€™s prized goalie and led the team to win the National â€œCollege Cupâ€ Championship in 1990. He went on to play for the U.S. National Team in the 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cups and also played for the U.S. Olympic Team in 1992 and 2000.
This year he completed his fifth season with the Blackburn Rovers FC of the English Premier League. With one more year under contract for the team, Friedel was negotiating an extension at press time. He claimed the leagueâ€™s â€œGoalkeeper of the Yearâ€ award in 2003.
There are academies similar to the Premier Soccer Academy all over Europe, but this will be the first of its kind in the United States. What makes the academy unique is that students will be admitted solely on the merit of their athletic abilities, not their ability to pay. The goal is to develop players into professional athletes. Roughly 50 of the most promising players from around the world will be selected to study at the academy for free. They will stay there 10 months out of the year and train while attending school, either public or private, in Amherst.
During the summer months, several youth camps and national tournaments will be held at the academy, bringing even more people and more exposure to the area. The addition of a year-round girls program also is being discussed.
But with a cost of $15,000 to $20,000 per player per year, Friedel needs help to support his venture.
Enter Doug Benns, CEO of Independence-based venture firm VSM2. The serial entrepreneur met Friedel in 2003 through a mutual acquaintance. Benns now serves as Friedelâ€™s senior adviser.
â€œThis is really a driver for economic development on a whole number of fronts,â€ says Benns, who has spearheaded fund-raising and development efforts for the academy, recruiting a number of Northeast Ohioâ€™s power elite to serve on the founders committee and help pay the bills. Such notable members include Richard Pogue, former Jones Day managing partner; Roy Church, president of Lorain County Community College; Frank Sullivan, president and CEO of RPM International Inc.; and Craig Foltin, mayor of Lorain, among others.
â€œPeople see the exposure that this represents for the region,â€ Carmon says. â€œItâ€™s like the Football Hall of Fame in Canton and the Rock Hall [in Cleveland]. Those are unique to the area. Youâ€™ll see ancillary things that will come up as a result of this.â€
Benns suspects 30 percent of the funds will be raised locally. Already, nearly $2 million has been raised, not including the small fortune Friedel has contributed. The rest will come from advertising partnerships with high-profile national brands such as Adidas. The sporting goods manufacturer has committed to a multi-year, six-figure contract with the academy. And Benns is currently in discussions with The Cleveland Clinic Foundation and the Coca-Cola Co. regarding possible sponsorship opportunities.
Additionally, a major fund-raising campaign will kick off later this month with a Founders Dinner and the First Annual RPM World Legends of Soccer Match, a game featuring past and present world soccer legends battling against one another at Bay High.
Construction of the academy is slated to begin this summer and be complete by summer 2006, with the first class of students beginning in January 2007.