Destination Soccer Chattanooga: Part 3 - CFC Academy

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Chattanooga FC is headed into their eleventh season of action. I have spent most of my life about thirty minutes from Chattanooga and CFC was the team to get me into grassroots soccer. I got the chance a few months back to talk to some of the most influential people in Chattanooga’s vast soccer ecosystem. These are the stories of what I consider one of if not the best soccer destinations in the United States.

Chattanooga’s off-the-field impact is much, much more vast than their impact on the field. From their academies to their charity work, the club has had such a vast impact on the city and the surrounding areas.

“The academies in the area were fractured,” said Chattanooga FC general manager Sheldon Grizzle. “The best players were split up and other players were driving to Atlanta, Knoxville, Nashville.” “Chattanooga just wasn’t punching its weight,” adds club president Tim Kelly. The idea of forming a single elite academy in the area was a huge undertaking at the time, but now they are the best academy in the area. It all started back in 2012 when the club held a summit with thirty of the top youth clubs from the city to discuss how to improve the youth game. The result was a more unified system that over the years has seen more and more clubs join.

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A lot of the players on the men’s and women’s team coach in the academy. “Some of them are our best coaches,” says Grizzle. The quality coaching and the CFC name has helped grow the number of kids playing elite soccer in Chattanooga from a few hundred to over a thousand just in CFC’s academy. “They’ve got one of the most impressive youth clubs in Tennessee, for sure, in terms of curriculum and coaching,” said Justin Haskell, a coach in the CFC Academy, “There are some really, really good and really, really experienced coaches here… I love the setup here and the curriculum and it’s just a really cohesive vision for how the kids should play. Every team in the academy is being taught play out of the back, keep the ball on the ground, possession, high pressing, quick counter-attacking, composure under pressure.”

Besides giving the kids somewhere to play and grow their abilities, the academy offers college prep to help athletes take that next step and get into a college. They do this through showing their players how to get recruited. They also hosted their first ever College ID camp this past summer with college soccer coaches from all over the Southeast attending. This academy’s 2019 class has thirty-four college commitments.

What they’ve done with the academy is phenomenal and should be applauded, but personally, I don’t think it even begins to match up to what they’ve done through the CFC Foundation. The Foundation is comprised of two major programs, the Chattanooga Sports Ministries and Operation Get Active. OGA works with elementary schools, middle schools, rec centers, and adults and children with disabilities. It all started with the elementary schools and branched out from there. Fun fact: OGA is also the first North American program to receive funding through the VW Workers Foundation.

“We are a health initiative trying to encourage kids to get more active through the game of soccer. We do this three times a year in the spring, summer, and fall,” says OGA Director Peter Woolcock. It’s a ten week long program that is in twenty elementary schools and three middle schools. They practice twice a week after school. Halfway through the program they have a tournament at Finley Stadium and then at the end they have another tournament for championships. “I think the Foundation is hugely important,” said Woolcock, “There’s still a big barrier to participation in soccer in this country. It’s not cheap. I think what we do well is have a really very affordable program that kids can access soccer, be part of a team, represent their school, have a jersey, and really introduce them to the game of soccer.”

OGA isn’t just great for the kids. Seeing the kids out there is so impactful for the adults. “It’s really awesome to see the kids score a goal and celebrate,” says Woolcock. “It would be awesome to see a kid that plays does Operation Get Active play for Chattanooga Football Club."

On top of OGA, the CFC Foundation also has the Chattanooga Sports Ministries. Their mission is to “impact urban youth in Chattanooga at the intersection of faith and athletic engagement.” Like OGA, they have soccer leagues going on throughout the year, but they don’t work directly with schools, but focus more on developing character through the sport rather than introducing kids to the sport to improve fitness.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

The CFC Foundation also works closely with the Highland Park Commons. It’s a group of three futsal fields that have been built in the middle of one of Chattanooga’s most diverse neighborhoods. There’s often pickup games, and it is the host of the Chattanooga Football League.

What the club has accomplished off the field is almost more impressive than the things they’ve done on the field. The lives they’ve impacted and kids they’ve helped are a testament to how much this club cares about the community.

Even though these are ran by Chattanooga FC, they are still charities. If you would like to donate to the CFC Foundation, you can click here. If you would like to donate to the Chattanooga Sports Ministries specifically, you can click here. If you would like to donate to Operation Get Active specifically, you can click here.

- Aarik Long

For the rest of this series on Chattanooga Soccer, go here.