By Barry Wise Smith

As the movie says, “If you build it, they will come.” And in Alabaster, Birmingham United Soccer Association (BUSA) is building a successful soccer program in partnership with the city and Shelby County.

The BUSA Alabaster program started in 2019 with a partnership between BUSA and Shelby County, the Alabaster schools, and the city to take over the city’s competitive programs. Andrew Brower, BUSA’s Executive Director, says, “BUSA took over the competitive program first, and it led to growth of the program as it exists today. We worked closely with the city and the schools. Then we took over management of operations of both the competitive and recreational leagues in the city.”

Today there are 30 to 35 competitive teams across age groups, and in 2022, over 600 recreational league players competed in the fall and spring seasons, for a total of 1,100 to 1,300 players for the year. “It’s a grassroots component of growing soccer from the younger ages,” Brower says. “There always needs to be a recreational pathway.” BUSA-Alabaster now also offers specialized training for goalkeepers, finishing, and more for players who want to develop additional skills.

“Alabaster is blessed with fantastic facilities, and we have a great partnership with Alabaster’s Parks and Recreation Director Tim Hamm,” Brower says. The soccer program uses the grass and turf fields at Veterans Park and fields at Municipal Park, Larry Simmons stadium, and Thompson High School. The most recent BUSA College Combine, for players wanting to play college soccer, was help on the turf fields at Veterans Park. “For weather, it’s been nice to have access to the turf fields,” Brower says.

“Working with BUSA has been great,” says Hamm. “They run a very good program and have been able to provide a quality soccer experience for the youth of Alabaster.”

In 2021, with the exponential growth of the BUSA-Alabaster program, two staff members were hired to run the program. Brock Vaughn, a former college soccer player and coach, was named technical director in 2021. Vaughan focuses on the older competitive and recreational teams.

When Vaughn arrived in 2021, there was only about one team per age group on the boys’ side, and now there are about three teams per age group for the boys, and the girls program has grown as well. “We’ve grown exponentially,” Vaughn says. “We’ve basically doubled or tripled both rec and competitive players. We have four teams competing for state championships, and last fall two Alabaster teams played each other in the finals.” Vaughn’s goal now is to grow the girls’ program, which he feels is going to happen.

BUSA also hired Will Patridge, a former player at Montevallo and coach at Hoover High School, as the Alabaster Academy Director and to lead the younger competitive and recreational teams (see sidebar below).

From Will Patridge Alabaster Academy Director

“I have been a soccer coach since 2007 when I took a job coaching at Hoover High School. From there I went with Birmingham United/Alabama FC, spending seven years at our location in Chelsea off of Highway 280. When I heard that BUSA was looking to expand to Alabaster, I spoke with our Executive Director and Director of Coaching, Andrew Brower and Ben Parks, and told them I would love an opportunity to help get the Alabaster branch up and running. I have been a resident of the Alabaster/Helena/Pelham area since 2008, and I saw this as an opportunity to bring the game of soccer into the community that I have grown to love.

We started with just a handful of teams on the boys and girls sides, all training at numerous locations across the city. Our coaches and staff immediately saw the opportunity for growth, and we began investing more resources to meet the demands of the community.

Personally, my experience working for BUSA and BUSA-Alabaster has been nothing short of amazing. Aside from being the Academy Director and a coach for our club, I am also a full-time k-5 Physical Education teacher. So much of my life is centered around working with and teaching youth. My wife, Heather, is a third-grade teacher at Creek View Elementary in Alabaster, and we both believe that teaching is truly a calling.

My role with BUSA has shifted and changed over the past year as I was offered the position of Academy Director and Recreational Manager. Our “Academy” is what we call the competitive side of the sport that offers coaching and instruction from licensed coaches and serves our elementary-aged students. Our Academy currently has around 115 boys and girls who receive coaching two plus times a week with games on the weekends. One thing I love about our academy is that we have “rolling enrollment.” We are able to accept new players throughout the year—there is no cut-off date!

 Ultimately, I want to provide a safe and structured soccer environment for our youth that seeks to care to the whole athlete. I want to see our boys and girls, along with their families, grow to love the game and to love each other.”