One of the best to go through the Ballistic program has been Kevin Crow. Following a professional career that saw him represent the United States in a pair of Olympics as well as numerous other national team appearances, Crow has come home to run the club as Ballistic's technical director of Coaching and Player Development.
As part of his grand plan to return the club to the stature it had in the 1970s and '80s, Crow is determined to expose the players to the international game as well as growing against domestic competition.
For the second straight year, Crow has worked to send a team to England through a partnership with Sheffield Wednesday, a second-division club in England.
"It's always been in the back of my mind that I wanted to bring back to the club some of what I got to experience," said Crow, who made numerous trips to Europe both during his youth and professional days. "It really stirs the passion of the kids and broadens their horizons on what goes on in the soccer world."
The 10-day trip features three scrimmages for the team as well as a pair of training sessions with the Sheffield Wednesday coaching staff. In addition, Crow arranges for the team to see three professional games in England, each of a different level so the kids get the big picture.
For two years in a row now, the team has taken in an Arsenal game and had a chance to tour the Manchester United facilities.
"The boys over there are very competitive and they train more," said Michelle Howell, the parent of Garrett Howell, a BUSC player. "I wanted Garrett exposed to the culture over there."
And that is exactly what she got.
"When we were at Sheffield, we saw the 6- and 7-year-old kids practicing every day," said Garrett, an eighth-grader at Pleasanton Middle School. "That's how they get so good."
"To train with coaches from England and be around people who love soccer so much was incredible," said Nancy Taylor, whose son Bryce also made the trip. "To see our boys practicing with their kids was a great experience."
The Ballistic team performed pretty well in its three scrimmages, going 1-2, but one of the losses was just 3-2. The final game against the top team their age from Sheffield Wednesday was a 5-1 loss and left the boys seeing what is out there.
"They had such good touch and knew where to go," said Garrett. "I really benefited as a player by being there. I got to see how hard they work and how good they are."
But part of Crow's plan was not just for the boys to train and play against kids their age, but to experience professional games at three different levels.
"They see the games on TV from the first division, but being there is another experience," said Crow. "But I also wanted them to see second and third division games so they could see the difference."
Again, mission accomplished.
"The Arsenal fans were great," said Garrett about the first division team. "But the Sheffield and Oldham fans -- they were crazy."
It is indeed a different culture. The boys had a chance to tour Manchester United's facilities earlier in the trip (think New York Yankees of English professional soccer) and came away with souvenirs. But when several of the boys tried to wear their Man U gear into Sheffield's stadium -- mind you, they are not even in the same league -- they were advised against it.
"Our guide looked at the boys and said, 'No, no, no, you need to change,'" said Crow.
One other aspect of the trip was for the team to experience the culture and history of London through sightseeing.
"The way the entire trip was set up -- going to London and seeing everything -- was amazing," said Taylor. "There were so many memories created for the boys."
Michelle Howell agreed.
"Seeing not only the soccer, but the culture as well, made the trip," said Howell. "Just to see how the people treated and talked with our boys was wonderful."
While it was an amazing trip for the team, as well as the parents, at the end of the day, everyone was glad to get home as there are some things you just can't beat in the United States.
"Our American food is way better," said Garrett with a laugh.