Whitecaps Academy summit signals changes at the top

The end of the spring season for the Whitecaps FC Northern Academy this weekend at Rotary Field means soccer kids from Prince George will get to mesh with their counterparts from the Whitecaps' Quesnel-based Cariboo Academy.

The three-day Spring Summit is also the swan song for Northern Academy coaches Sonny Pawar and Ross Holtom.

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The camp for kids aged 10 to 18 will bring together 120 players for the Northern Academy, 30 from the Cariboo Academy (Quesnel, Williams Lake and 100 Mile House) and several players on the Whitecaps' radar from Smithers, Dawson Creek and Whitehorse for drills and scrimmages.

The Northern Academy began its outdoor spring phase in May, as soon as the fields opened for the season, unlike Whitecaps Academy programs in the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and the Okanagan, which started outdoor training in late March. The Spring Summit marks the end of that spring phase.

"The kids from the Cariboo in the Whitecaps Academy don't get together with the kids from Prince George at all, and this is the opportunity to do that," said Holtom.

Pawar, the Northern Academy head coach, is moving to Victoria, where his wife has accepted a job with the provincial government. Holtom's pending return to his hometown in England came as a surprise. He has accepted a part-time position with Coventry City Football Club and has also been hired as a phys-ed teacher in Coventry. Holtom joined the Northern Academy as associate coach this year, moving up from Vancouver.

The Whitecaps announced Thursday that Wes Barrett will take over as Northern Academy head coach and he will be in Prince George helping Pawar and Holtom conduct the camp, as well as Whitecaps FC 2 goalkeeper Spencer Richey, due to arrive on Sunday.

"The kids in Vancouver get to see the Whitecaps and get to go to the games all the time but obviously we're a bit more remote and it's good the club sends a professional player because it lets the kids know they're part of something big," said Holtom.

Had the job offer in England not been available, Holtom said he would have applied to fill the interim position at UNBC to replace men's team head coach Alan Alderson, who is also leaving Prince George (see other story). Holtom is not sure if his return to the U.K. is permanent and said he and his wife Yvonne Ramskill would eventually like to return to live in B.C. He said the hiring of Barrett will provide continuity for the Whitecaps Academy, which offers outdoor and indoor programs.

"Everything will continue just as it was because the Whitecaps don't employ people who can't do the job. It won't be any different for the kids," Holtom said.

Barrett, a native of Richmond, is a product of the Whitecaps youth program who co-founded the Epic youth soccer development program on Vancouver Island, serving as head coach and program director. He has a "B" soccer coaching license and is a former head coach of the St. Michaels University senior boys secondary team, having also coached the Victoria Highlander club team, Total Systems Academy, and the Vancouver Island Wave of the B.C. Premier League.

Barrett played for Trinity Western University and then transferred to UVic, helping the Vikes win the CIS championship in 2011

"First of all, I'd like to thank Sonny and Ross for their hard work and commitment in establishing our Northern Academy Centre programs," said Whitecaps FC director of soccer development Dan Lenarduzzi, in a release on the Whitecaps' website. "In Wes, we're thrilled to have an ambitious, bright head coach to step in and continue what we've built. Having come through our youth programs himself, Wes has tremendous firsthand knowledge of what it takes to develop as a young player."

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