Retired professional athlete takes on Georgia youth soccer

By KATIE VAN LOAN

MARIETTA, Ga. – Simon Davey, a retired professional soccer player, is taking his love for soccer, and his history on the field, by working to bring soccer to children at low costs to parents.

Davey, father of three girls, reclines in his pool chair during the interview and cracks open a beer, signaling it’s not his first rodeo.

Originally born in Wales, Davey toured the world with professional teams such as Swansea City, Carlisle United and Preston North End.  Davey earned a spot as team captain on two of his professional teams, and gained recognition when he was selected for the Professional Footballers Association Team of the Season, an award voted for by all the professional players in the Football League.

Davey’s modest tendencies and quirky sense of humor became apparent when asked why he decided to play soccer professionally.

“It’s what my dad wanted me to do, and you’d be out of your mind to cross an angry Welsh man,” Davey said. “Fortunately for me, I had a knack for fútbol and developed a love for the game.”

Davey sports a thick British accent and commonly refers to soccer as “fútbol,” and the field as a “pitch.”  Relaxation sweeps over Davey as he begins to reminisce on the sport that he dedicated his life to.

Davey started living the life of a local superstar at the age of 16 when he became the second youngest member to ever play for the Swansea City soccer team in 1987.  While most children attended high school and lived at home, Davey toured the world with the professional soccer players Frank Rijkaard and David Beckham.

Davey played with four different teams before retiring from the league and entering the coaching world.  Davey said his retirement from playing soccer came earlier than he expected.  “I was using a medicine ball for workouts and I just felt something snap,” Davey said. “Then the pain came.”

Davey said he had injured his back during the workout, leading to the end of his playing career ended at the age of 27. Following his injury, Davey said he decided not to part ways with the sport that he loved.

pic 1 soccerDavey making his debut on the professional soccer field. (Submitted Photo)

Preston Youth Academy manager, David Moyes, gave Davey a chance by allowing him to coach, and it was not long until Moyes promoted Davey to the head of Preston’s Youth Academy.

“When I started coaching, I knew that I was exactly where I needed to be,” Davey said.  “I’m not glad that my injury happened, but I am grateful for where I am now. I think that playing soccer was more of a step stone that lead me to coaching it.”

Davey exuded confidence and positivity during the interview, saying he eventually began coaching his own professional soccer team called the Barnsley Football Club. Under Davey’s wing, Barnsley conquered teams such as Liverpool and Chelsea to make an appearance at the FA Cup semi-finals for their first time in 96 years.

“I can’t even explain how it felt when we beat Chelsea to make it to the semi-finals,” Davey said. “What I can tell you is that we celebrated properly after the game that night.”

After his contract with Barnsley ended, Davey said he went on to manage Darlington Soccer Club and then Hereford United, where his professional-coaching career ended.

pic 2 soccerDavey holding the Welsh Cup in 1992. (Submitted Photo)

Despite the ending of this phase of coaching, Davey said he still decided to stay within the soccer community, but this time he moved across the world to do it. In May of 2012, Davey said he received a phone call from a friend asking if he would like to start up a youth soccer club in the United States.

“My knee-jerk reaction was to decline the offer,” Davey said. “Accepting that position meant moving my three young daughters and my wife to America.”

However, after much deliberation, Davey said he decided to accept the position as Director of the Southern Soccer Academy in Marietta, Georgia.

“The girls wanted to kill me when I told them that we were moving,” Davey said. “Fortunately for me, I’m just as stubborn as my dad, so their whining didn’t faze my decision much. Besides, they love America now, so I don’t feel too terribly guilty.”

Less than two weeks after the phone call, Davey moved to the United States and began organizing one of the largest not-for-profit youth soccer leagues in the Southeast. In addition to moving from a different country, Simon also dealt with building a soccer club from the ground up.

“If I knew how much work it was going to be in the beginning, there is a good chance that I would not have taken the job,” Davey said. “I’m talking 16-hour days and working all night trying to merge five of Georgia’s largest soccer clubs into one super club.  A lot of people quit early on because the project was just so huge.”

Southern Soccer Academy, or SSA, provides soccer training for 3-19-year-old boys and girls and focuses on keeping the costs low for the parents.

“Organized sports are extremely expensive,” Davey said. “Parents pay upwards of $2000 a year so that their kids can join a team. The goal of SSA is to keep the costs low by creating a larger club with more members.”

With the help of his staff, Davey said he works to ensure that finances do not exempt children from joining a soccer club.

“Every kid should be part of some sort of team,” Davey said. “You learn a lot by working with other people to accomplish, or score, a goal. I think it’s important that these large, organized clubs focus less on the profits coming in and more on teaching the kids about fútbol.”

Davey’s journey took him from player to coach, finally leading him to the position of head director for an entire club right here in our community.

“Soccer has been a part of my life since I can remember,” Davey said. “I’ve worked with every aspect of the sport and now I am in a spot where I’d like to contribute the knowledge that I have gained in order to help others fall in love with soccer.”

pic 3 soccerKatie Van Loan and Simon Davey posing post interview. (Submitted Photo)

East Cobb baseball prepares for another busy season

By TYLER DUKE

MARIETTA, Ga. – Each year, thousands of youth baseball players make their way to the East Cobb Baseball Complex, located in Marietta, for the summer time baseball season.

Hosting many of the best youth teams in America, East Cobb is chosen for some of the biggest travel baseball tournaments in the nation due to its world-class facilities and reputation.

Representing its success are the 248 players who have played for East Cobb and made it to Major League Baseball — as well as the 229 national titles from its teams.

With youth baseball growing in importance each year, East Cobb is looking to be as packed as ever come the summer of 2017.

pic 1 baseballAmong many of the rare features that East Cobb offers, pitchers warm up in an isolated bullpen away from the field. The distance away from the action limits dangerous incidents from balls in play toward unaware players. (Photo by Tyler Duke)

pic 2 baseballScouting has become, increasingly, a part of youth baseball at younger and younger ages. East Cobb uses numbered seats directly behind home plate for scouts to take a look at some of the biggest prospects that take the field. (Photo by Tyler Duke)

pic 3 baseballSpending $9.7 million dollars in 1985, entrepreneur Russ Umphenhour built the complex to allow Guerry Baldwin — the current East Cobb President — the chance at developing young baseball players in top facilities. (Photo by Tyler Duke)

pic 4 baseballEast Cobb now covers 30 acres with eight baseball fields. For many of the teams and players coming from out-of-state, the complex hosts rooms on site for families to stay in during tournaments. (Photo by Tyler Duke)

pic 5 baseballThe fields feature a mixture of artificial turf, natural grass and manicured dirt for a safe and true playing surface. (Photo by Tyler Duke)

pic 6 baseballEast Cobb staffs a full-time Fields Operation Manager, Kenny Faulk, to take care of the eight fields, as hundreds of teams and thousands of players prepare to play throughout the summer. (Photo by Tyler Duke)

pic 7 baseballOf the 248 players that have taken the field for East Cobb and gone on to play Major League Baseball, some of the notables include Brian McCann, Dansby Swanson, Jason Heyward, Jeff Francoeur and Dexter Fowler. (Photo by Tyler Duke)

pic 8 baseballIn addition to the outdoor facilities, East Cobb has numerous indoor batting cages and training facilities that allow players to develop their game all throughout the year alongside, provided, coaches and instructors. (Photo by Tyler Duke)

As travel baseball continues to grow in popularity and necessity for youth players wanting to have a chance at higher levels, East Cobb has transformed into one of the premiere destinations for tournaments.

In July of 2017, more than 2000 players and 125 teams are expected to compete in a two-week event hosted at the facility to show off some of the best players in the nation.

Local baseball talent garners attention

By WES BLAKEY

COBB COUNTY, Ga. – Despite his size, Brian Williams, a junior third baseman for the Lassiter High School baseball team, shows extraordinary potential, attracting the attention of colleges, scouts and his coach.

The sun is shining through the left field trees onto the outfield of the Lassiter High School baseball field. It’s just a quarter until 5 p.m. as Williams stretches with his team during pregame warm-ups. Once the team completes their daily stretching routine, Williams caps it off with a handstand push-up, something he dubs “a weird superstition, just because I can.”

Hitting the baseball seems to come just as easily to the 5-foot-10, 190-pound infielder as his pregame handstand push-up. Williams has not produced a batting average below .350 since manning the hot corner for the Lassiter Trojans. He spent his freshman and sophomore seasons playing for the junior varsity team before earning the starting third baseman role for the varsity team his junior year.

“My summer ball coach did a really good job recruiting for me,” Williams said. “I was talking to Kennesaw State, East Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas and Michigan, but none of these schools show any interest in me as a player right now because my height is not project-able.”

Williams has been having an excellent senior season so far, as the Lassiter Trojans have gotten off to a good start with a 12-4 streak. He is hitting near the .450 mark with two home runs, and has driven in around 30 total runs.

picture 1 Williams rips a line drive to right field for an RBI single at Etowah High School. March 16, 2017. (Photo credit: Wes Blakey)

“This year’s team at Lassiter is the best it has been since I’ve been in high school,” Williams said. “We have a pitching staff that comes out every day and give us the opportunity to win every game, and we have the best line-up in the state one through nine. End of discussion. All we have to do is continue to hit and we are going to win.”

One thing Lassiter’s head coach, Kyle Rustay, pointed out was Williams’ willingness to do whatever he can do to help the team win.

“He cares more about winning than personal statistics and accolades,” Rustay said.

picture 2Williams walks back to the plate after a quick talk with Coach Rustay during a mound visit at Etowah High School. March 16, 2017. (Photo credit: Wes Blakey)

Rustay says Williams is a really humble kid who is extremely coach-able and wants to improve as much as he can.

“His work ethic is the biggest thing that has separated him from his peers,” Rustay said. “I don’t want to say it separates him from his teammates entirely, however, because they are a very hard-working group overall.”

Middle infielder and right-handed pitcher, Matt Christian, said that Williams is one of his best friends.

“He’s a hard-working kid and a talented young man,” Christian said. “I remember last year in the sixth inning, in a game against Walton, when someone hit a chopper, he jumped in the air at third base and threw a kid out at home while still in the air.”

These are just a few players under six feet tall that have exhibited success at the major league level. Rustay mentioned Hall of Famer, Craig Biggio, as being comparable to Williams.

“He may be a bit undersized, but he is capable of taking over a game and doing a lot of things to help the team be successful,” Rustay said.

Williams, however, said he tries to model his game by watching the 6-foot-3 All-Star third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles, Manny Machado.

Rustay said that another thing that makes Williams stand out is his positive attitude.

“He doesn’t get down on himself when something doesn’t go his way,” Rustay said. “He just looks to the next at-bat or the next defensive play.”

Williams said his favorite part about the game of baseball is that there is always another game to be played.

“If something goes wrong one at bat, or one play in the field, or you just have a bad day overall, chances are there is going to be another at-bat that game or another play in the field,” Williams said. “There is always another game to be played the next day.”

Rustay said Williams plays the game at a really high level and isn’t afraid to push the envelope, both offensively and defensively.

“Aggressive, fearless and selfless,” Rustay said when describing Williams as a player.

picture 3Williams does his best Chipper Jones impression (1:10 mark) as he makes a nice play at third base throwing off the wrong foot at Etowah High School. March 16, 2017. (Photo credit: Wes Blakey)

Currently, Williams is verbally committed to Birmingham Southern College to play baseball at the next level. He has offers from Emmanuel College and East Georgia State College, but Augusta University and Cal State University, Northridge have also been in contact with him.

“I met a Toronto Blue Jays scout this past fall at a camp, and he watched me play all weekend,” Williams said. “He decided to approach me that Sunday and ask me how I did last high school season, and during the summer. I told him I hit around .400 with a fielding percentage of about .950.”

Earning the accolade of a 2016 All-State Honorable Mention behind Josh Lowe, the 13th overall pick in last years MLB Draft and Carter Kieboom, the 28th overall pick, Williams garnered some interest from a Pittsburgh Pirates scout whom he met while watching a game.

“He told me he had seen me play last high school season, and he liked what he saw and would be around,” Williams said.

Rustay has spoken with the coaches from Mercer, North Georgia, Florida Gulf Coast and Florida Southwestern junior college about Williams.

“I keep telling these coaches that if they add him to their roster, they are getting an absolute steal,” Rustay said. “He’s super athletic and can do whatever you need on both sides of the ball.”

Williams said he has been playing baseball since he was six years old and doesn’t plan stopping anytime soon. For the time being, he said that his goal is staying focused on the season and getting the Lassiter baseball program back to where it should be as state champions.

Bodybuilding, a woman’s business

By LE’DOR PHOENIX

ROSWELL, Ga. – Professional body-builder and trainer, Gina Shabazz, improves both women’s physical physique and their self-esteem by helping them to achieve their fitness goals.

Shabazz is the owner of Roc Fit, in Roswell, Georgia, formally known as Fitness Pro Wellness Center.

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Gina Shabazz lifting weights at Roc Fit in Roswell, Ga. (Photo by Le’Dor Phoenix)

Shabazz said that the beauty industry is tough, but the fitness industry is even tougher, particularly for women. She also said she believes that women going through bad break ups, divorce, job changes, or problems stemming from their youth can experience weight gain due to stress.

“Ninety percent of the time, women are crying in my consultation meetings,” Shabazz said.

Shabazz considers herself strong in both character and physical stature, but said she empathizes and relates to other women’s body images and fitness challenges.

After having two kids in her thirties, Shabazz weighed in at 165 pounds at just five feet tall, and said she decided to make a lifestyle change.

“I was fed up with my body, so I took off running for miles, everyday, to find my balance,” Shabazz said.

Later, Shabazz met her current husband, Roc Shabazz, and gained much of her training experience by helping him to begin, and sustain, a winning streak of prestigious body building competitions, ranging from the popular NPC Nationals to Olympia.

Roc Shabazz, an International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness Professional (IFBB) calls Gina Shabazz his “rock.”

“It takes so much out of you to be so consistent when you prep for such a prestigious show,” Gina Shabazz said. “The best looking bodies in the entire world do this show.”

Their hard work proved not be in vain when the duo placed sixth in world at the 2008 Olympia.

Shabazz, as the operations manager, support trainer and a certified National Physique Committee judge (NPC), said she understands that women are obsessed with the images portrayed in media and fashion magazines.

“Young women in their 20s are doing liposuction, butt injections and breast augmentations, but are not working out,” Shabazz said. “They’re skipping the training part. Squats build your butt and bringing down your waistline will improve the look of your butt.”

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Shabazz (center) with clients (Photo by Le’Dor Phoenix)

Now that Roc Shabazz has retired from competing, the couple focuses entirely on their by-referral-only business.

Roc Fit is home to many NFL, NBA and IFBB professionals such as Shaquille O’Neal, Ray Lewis, Ray Rice and Simona Douglas, to name a few. Day-to-day, Roc Fit has more than 75 people training between the hours of 5 a.m. and 9 a.m.

“You come with a plan and I will give you the blueprint to achieve it,” Shabazz said. “This is where change happens.”

For more information on Roc Fit, you can visit their website, here.

Collegiate athletes could be disciplined if in violation of gambling policy

By JACKSON WALSH

KENNESAW, Ga. — An athlete’s participation in fantasy leagues and pools could spell trouble if it constitutes a violation of the NCAA gambling policy.

This legislation binds athletes and those who work for them in collegiate athletic departments. Examples include coaches, athletic directors, academic tutors for athletics and anyone working under the insignia of a collegiate sports team. Due to the cultural impact that the games have had in recent years, some who are new to working for athletics might not understand or see the harm in participating.

Fantasy football’s popularity, for example, is rampant among fans of the fall sport, so much so that it has become part of the allure of football itself.

Every year during the NFL season, hundreds upon thousands of leagues both public and private are organized for money, trophies, prizes, bragging rights or just another way to get into statistics. Lineups are set based on who is the highest scoring or most popular football player — based on position and performance.

This type of statistics-based competition centered around the NFL or other professional leagues could be seen as adjacent from a college student’s career in that choosing professional players a level above them does not necessarily impact the games they play or their overall status as an athlete.

Since the point game affects the pros and not necessarily college games, one could interpret the game as merely competing for points on Sunday games.

However, putting money into the ring could set up disciplinary action — quite possibly being removed from their team. On the subject of whether it is gambling or a violation, the NCAA says that yes, participation in such games is classified under their definition of sports wagering.

The Internet Gambling Prohibition and Enforcement Act of 2006, classified fantasy sports as a game of skill and not a form of gambling. Many athletes and coaches could be and have gotten tripped up on the two definitions while some not thinking that it is classified as gambling.

Narrowing the scope, the policy states prohibition on all sports wagering that “has the potential to undermine the integrity of sports contests and jeopardizes the welfare of students athletes.”

“Risk plus reward equals a violation, so, if it costs money to do, it is not permissible” said Heath Senour, associate athletics director for compliance at Kennesaw State University. “If there’s no risk on the front end, it does not meet the definition of gambling.”

Many examples of those involved in athletics getting penalized for gambling exist, forcing immediate action. Such accounts include Washington’s Rick Neuheisel in 2003, who was fired after winning $20,000 in a March Madness pool and Stevin “Hedake” Smith at Arizona State in 1994 who was not drafted by the NBA after being involved in point-shaving to pay off a debt to a bookmaker, or “bookie,” who made money off his fulfilled vow not to win games by a certain amount of points so as not to cover a spread.

The risks are high, and precautions are taken to save athletic careers.

The policy does not rule out all forms of placing bets on games. The rule is enforced wherever there is both a collegiate and a professional equivalent to the event in question, making it illegal to place bets on the most popular team sports.

The rule is not enforced for betting on horse races, poker or any related sport or game without this connection. Since no money is involved in many cases, the rule is also not enforced on merely playing fantasy sports for fun in the many public or private no-fee leagues and free March Madness brackets.

Even with wager-free fantasy football being allowed, athletes are forewarned well ahead of time about the danger of violating this policy. They are educated and encouraged to stay away all together.

Christian Harris, a former linebacker at both the University of Tennessee and Grand Valley State, said he and his fellow athletes were sternly taught the rules and the consequences thereof on many occasions.

“It would be at team meetings, where speakers would come in and say, ‘Hey, don’t bet on it’” Harris said. “There were a mass amount of speakers, athletic directors and coaches cracking down on the rules.”

Taylor Henkle, current defensive lineman of the Kennesaw State Owls, confirms this statement, saying that his team had to attend mandatory meetings.

“Every year, we would start with a compliance meeting,” said Henkle. “The compliance guy would come in and lay the baseline of what we can and cannot do. Usually, it’s about once a year before the school year starts with freshman coming in, and, of course, the returners come in, and we listen to them.”

A series of Regional Rules Seminars are conducted two times at two different sites annually. The seminars run for three days and are an NCAA legislation for all three divisions.

It is due to the effort of those in the athletic association and the way they have enforced their stance on gambling that made it well known to the players not to place anything under the table when it came to wagering on a game.

As of late, those in the athletic association makes sure their athletes know how the rules work.

One of the recent attempts to slow down the illegal gambling is the league getting ESPN to remove the spread numbers from its website so the lines to bet are unknown.

There has even been a campaign launched titled “Don’t Bet On It” to educate those who aren’t informed. Information is found on the campaign’s website, which offers an in-depth explanation of the policy, enforcement and the infraction process for Division I, II and III athletics.

It points out that not only can gambling put student athletes at risk by threatening the game’s integrity, but is also risking an athlete’s health and well-being.

The NCAA will survey students this year as part of their gambling study that has taken place every four years since 2004.