AFC Lightning continues to have an impact on local scene

Tue, 06/05/2007 - 2:53pm
By: Michael Boylan

Lightning 74 boys The Lightning 74 Gold team, the first team from the club to win a state championhip. Photo/Special.

When the Class AAAA state championships took place in Fayette County last month, 70 of the players on the four rosters of the boys and girls teams involved either currently play, or have played, for the AFC Lightning. The local soccer club has produced amazing talent over the years and, some would argue, has shaped club soccer in the state. After winning their first state title in 1990 with the 74 Boys team, the club has won 33 state championships, five region championships and one national championship.

AFC Lightning started off as Fayette County Lightning in 1982 and eventually became South Metro Lightning when they featured players from Peachtree City and Clayton County. In 1989, Steve Weeman, president of the Lightning soccer club, met David “Chaddy” Chadwick, a former professional soccer player and coach who had just moved to Peachtree City. Chadwick started with the Lightning in 1990 and coached the 74 boys to the club’s first state title.

“It was a big deal and I knew it would have a significant impact on the club,” said Chadwick. “If we won the state championship that day, I knew the club would take off. I was as nervous that day as I had ever been.”

The team won 3-0 and the players from that team would go on to face each other as rivals for a Georgia High School state soccer championship in 1992. McIntosh met Fayette County in the final that year and the Chiefs emerged victorious. One of the star players from that team, Danny Care, went on to play at Clemson University and was the no.1 draft pick for DC United in the Major League Soccer draft. Care is one of five former Lightning players to have played professionally.

Others are Clint Mathis, who currently plays for the New York Red Bulls, and has also played for the U.S. National team in World Cup play, Ricardo Clark, a player on the Houston Dynamo, Marshall Leonard, a member of the New England Revolution, and Rakel Karvelsson, a member of the Icelandic women’s national team who also played professionally in the WUSA. Leonard was a member of the Lightning team that won a national title.

“Our focus has always been to see our players move on to play college soccer and we have helped a lot of players accomplish that,” Chadwick said.

Chadwick became the Lightning’s first paid director of coaching, a position that numerous soccer clubs in the state and nation now have. The Lightning also decided to pay coaches, insuring that the players were getting better coaching and development.

“There’s no question that Lightning became a blueprint for building a soccer club,” said Weeman.

There are four full-time staff coaches with the club and a lot of part-time coaches, all of whom are licensed and have a wealth of experience in the higher levels of soccer. When the club won their first state title, there were seven teams; there are now over 30 teams playing under the Lightning name and, at one point, there were over 40.

Not only is the club known for playing some great soccer, but it hosts between two and three large tournaments a year. Recently, 110 teams, 80 of which were from out of state, played at the North and South Complex in Fayetteville. At several of their tournaments, some of the play moves to fields at Lovejoy and Griffin, just to house everybody.

“I know the tournaments are worth a lot to the county,” said Weeman. “One of our last tournaments filled up local hotels and the Chick-fil-A almost ran out of food.”

AFC Lightning starts working with children in camps and clinics when they are in Under 8 and by the time they are 10 or 11 they are working with coaches with Class A licenses. The program, and others like it, are great feeder programs for the local high schools. Since that first state title for the Lightning, there have 15 high school state championships won by local high schools. It is almost certain that every one of those teams had at least one Lightning player on them.

It has been 25 years since Lightning struck in Fayette County and things continue to look bright for the program, its players and fans.

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