MOULTRIE — Mike Wallace is well-aware of the success of the Moultrie YMCA’s gymnastics program, which competes nationally, and of Colquitt County’s Moss Farms Diving, which has produced age-group and collegiate champions for more than three decades.

And he believes the community has an opportunity to build a similar soccer program.

Wallace, hired recently by the Moultrie YMCA to oversee its soccer program, has played collegiately and professionally and has coached at the club, high school and Division I college level.

He has plans not only to improve the YMCA’s program, but to start a club program similar to the Thomas Area Soccer Association, which develops high-quality teams at a number of age groups and takes them to matches and tournaments throughout the Southeast.

And Wallace already has a logo drawn up for his Georgia United program, which he plans to get off the ground in the fall.

Wallace has won coach of the year honors at Cairo and Thomasville high schools and last fall coached the men’s soccer team at Central Arkansas. He also has served as TASA’s director of coaching.

YMCA general director Greg Coop is pleased to be able to get someone with Wallace’s background.

“He puts us on the map for soccer,” Coop said. “He’ll be able to attract kids from the surrounding areas.”

Coop obviously is impressed with Wallace’s soccer credentials. But there’s more.

“He’s a good Christian man,” Coop said. “That kind of person is hard to find sometimes. He is a great fit for us.”

Wallace was born 41 years ago in Munich, Germany, where his father was stationed while in the armed forces.

When his family moved back to the states at Fort Bragg, N.C., when he was 16, he went out for the Westover High School soccer team. He had the foot speed, but not the foot skills for the sport and was ready to give it up after several days.

But the team’s coach, who became what he calls his mentor, told him to stick it out.

“The coach told me I had a gift, but I’d have to work for it,” Wallace said.

So he went to work and he became an all-state player as a senior.

Wallace played collegiately at Coker College in South Carolina, where he was a three-time All-American and later played professionally in both the U.S. and Europe.

It was during that time that he began coaching during the summers. And he discovered something about himself.

“I love working with kids,” he said.

Wallace also began teaching special education, which, he says, has enabled him to become an even better coach.

And, remembering how much a coach has meant to him as a youngster, he believes there is more to coaching than just teaching fundamentals.

“I want to impact a life every day,” he said. “Only 1 percent of the kids will go on to play at college. But the rest of them may be professionals in something else.

“But they will still have the tools they learned here. Our job is to mentor these kids.”

Wallace’s wife is from Thomasville and several years ago the family moved there. He played in Tallahassee and coached the girls team at Cairo High for two years and was named the region’s coach of the year.

He also coached the Thomasville High boys team, again receiving coach of the year honors, and was involved with the TASA program as its director of coaching.

Wallace believes Colquitt County is fertile ground for soccer. The YMCA program already is large and established and there are a number of young Hispanics looking for a place to play and improve their games.

And Wallace said he expects to be able to draw young talent from surrounding communities.

“There is a lot of talent in this area,” Wallace said.

He will work with the YMCA’s spring program, oversee a 3-on-3 league and hold four camps this summer.

In addition to bringing in new players and improving the skills of those and the other players, Wallace said he hopes to be able to train volunteer coaches and officials.

The YMCA’s Georgia United program will have teams from U6 to U19 with select team from U9 to U12 traveling to play in tournaments.

The U14 and above teams will target the Colquitt County middle school and high school players and will face strong competition during the school teams’ off-seasons.

And Wallace is already getting a taste of Colquitt County soccer. He has worked with middle school boys coach Ben Marion and actually coached the team on two occasions in Marion’s absence.

But he already knew many of the folks in Moultrie who want to see soccer improve here. Several had their children play in the TASA program.

“Moultrie’s hungry for this,” Wallace said.

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