Three of the area's four soccer clubs will merge this month under one banner to become the Georgia-Carolina Bulls Soccer Club.
The Columbia County Patriots, the Aiken Soccer Club and North Augusta Kicks will create the partnership and become the largest soccer club in the area.
"This is huge," said Forrest Wimberly, the technical director for the Columbia County Patriots. "I've been involved with soccer in this area for over 10 years now. There's always been talk about doing something like this, and now we've finally found a way to come together and pool our strengths."
Winberly said the fourth area team, the Augusta Arsenal, declined an invitation to be a part of the merger.
Along with the name change, the merger will produce changes in travel, training procedures and the level of competition. Wimberly said each change will be for the better.
"This is not a typical 'merger' of three soccer clubs," he said in a news release. "This is the idea of all three clubs joining together under a new third party's organization and guidance."
ON THE ROAD: The distance from Aiken's Citizens Park to Blanchard Woods Park in Evans is nearly 40 miles, but Aiken Soccer Club President Kim Brian said the road trips will be kept to a minimum.
"We want to keep the young kids home and not put them on the road," she said. "The older kids don't mind the extra drive. What we'll be able to do is meet halfway, and we can do that in North Augusta."
Most of the traveling will be left to the coaches from all three clubs.
"It's easier to move adult coaches around instead of players," Wimberly said. "There will be training sites in Aiken, Augusta and North Augusta running parallel programs. The coaches will be rotating among all the training sites to ensuring the same program is being delivered to players."
NEW SYSTEM: The three clubs will unite under the guidance of the Honolulu Bulls Soccer Club. Columbia County Patriots Academy Director Wes Meadows spent four years in Hawaii as a coach for the nationally recognized club.
"They've set a very successful model in place," he said. "They wanted to spread their system throughout the country. I've witnessed how, on a little island, they've been able to produce several Major League Soccer players and national players."
The new club will operate under a board of directors comprised of coaches and coach-elected officials. The board will hire a director of coaching and elect an executive panel of directors.
"We had to amend some by-laws, and we're in the process of putting all the pieces in place," Wimberly said. "Until then, we'll have a lot of Honolulu Bulls involvement."
The Honolulu Bulls' director of coaching, Phil Neddo, will step in on an interim basis until a board can be elected and hire a local director of coaching.
MAKING A NAME: The merger will obviously boost the quantity of soccer players in the new club. Wimberly said the quality will increase as well.
"The beauty of this is we can pool our numbers and have some really strong teams," he said. "We'll put our best from Columbia County with the best from the South Carolina clubs. They'll be able to match up better with the Columbia, Atlanta and Charlotte teams."
Brian compared the situation to a merger that took place in Greenville, S.C., a few years ago.
"They merged into the CESA (Carolina Elite Soccer Association) and started winning championships left and right," she said. "We started looking at that, and what's unique here is we've found a structure with the Bulls that is a successful system."
It's a system known to produce top-notch soccer talent not only in Hawaii but also in San Francisco.
The best of the talent in the Georgia-Carolina Bulls organization will have a chance to play with those teams as well, Meadows said.
Tryouts for the Georgia-Carolina Bulls Soccer Club will begin May 15.
Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org