John Fisher is willing to endure whatever is necessary to prepare his soccer team for the spring season, including taking a 12-hour bus ride with 30 teen-agers.
Fisher brought his under-16 boys team from West Chester, Pa., to the 13th annual Augusta Arsenal Soccer Club Spring Shootout to compete against a field of tough competition this weekend. He said the 700-mile journey is worthwhile because his team has seen its first outdoor action of 1998.
"It was like going to Europe and back, but it's fun; the kids have a good time," Fisher said.
The shootout began at 8 a.m. Saturday morning at Fort Gordon's Barton Field and continues today with championship matches for girls of all ages and boys ages 15-19 set for 1 p.m.
West Chester is 40 miles southwest of Philadelphia and is represented by a under-15 team as well as Fisher's team. The Pennsylvania contingent traveled the farthest of any of the 81 teams competing this weekend. The Shootout will continue next weekend for boys ages 10-14.
The Lazer, Fisher's team, played to a 0-0 tie against a team from North Carolina in the first round of the Shootout. This is the first year Fisher has brought the Lazer to Augusta although he has been here before.
"I was down here a couple of years ago and I was real happy with the competition," he said. "Since I was here before I knew we would see some outstanding teams and different teams. You get concerned going away to tournaments that you're going to get there and find the competition is not good.
"We're trying to get ready for a big competition at home; that's why we're here. So, it's good to come and see a good team right off the bat."
"It's worth it, there are good teams," said Ryan Dawson, who plays for the Lazer. "It's hard to find good tournaments."
Although they weren't buried in snow or terribly frigid weather in Pennsylvania, a southern excursion makes sense for Chip Smallwood, coach of the West Chester U-15 team.
"I wanted to go someplace this month because up north we can't do too much," Smallwood said. "We wanted to be outside. I asked some friends and they said this was a good tournament. In the spring we'll have our State Cup competition, so we're trying to get ready for that."
The West Chester teams have been practicing indoors and don't usually start playing outside until March. They held a pizza sale to raise money for their charter bus. Smallwood wasn't as frazzled by the half-day ride to Augusta as Fisher, but has his reservations about the trip back.
"Actually it was much better than I thought it was going to be," Smallwood said. "I thought I'd feel bad when I got here but the kids were well behaved. I don't know how it's going to be going back."