By Katie Fallon

From a star soccer player in high school and college to a stint as a semi-professional, Ken Dawson has brought a world of skill to the city’s soccer program at Hammond Park.

Dawson’s soccer career flourished at Druid Hills High School in the mid and late 19080’s before he moved on to become a four-year scholarship player, three-year captain and three-year MVP at Augusta State University, where he played from 1988 to 1992. In addition, Dawson played for two years with the Chattanooga Express of the USISL Pro League before settling full-time on the instructional aspect of the game.

After several coaching stints since his college years, Dawson has come to Sandy Springs’ Hammond Park to coach both team leagues and seasonal camps and basic skill clinics. After three seasons of coaching junior varsity soccer at Roswell High School, Dawson is in the process of transitioning to head up the girls’ soccer program at the Atlanta International School.

Dawson got into coaching while still a student at Augusta State. While a sophomore there, he said younger, local players would come watch the college team practice.

“I started coaching my second year at Augusta State,” Dawson said. “Youth teams would come out to watch us play and I started talking to one of the team managers. We just wanted to play soccer and to younger kids, that was exciting. We started going out twice a week.”

Dawson said he took well to coaching by just adapting his adult training to a lower level. At Hammond Park, he said players as young as four learn the basics of the game, such as ball touches, trapping, passing, learning to shoot and teamwork.

“We do a lot of things to help them dribble and pick their head up,” Dawson said. “We try to work on small things and then build on it so they can see if they’ve improved.”

With the program at Hammond geared towards players ages four to 11, Dawson said it is easy to translate lessons learned as a semi-professional player and to keep the young players from developing bad habits.

“At a young age, they just want to play and the best thing for them is to play,” Dawson said. “The good thing about young kids is they’re like sponges. You teach them something and they do it. With young kids, you don’t have to break them of bad habits.”

Even in his higher level of playing, Dawson said he constantly maintained communication and good sportsmanship as necessary skills. He said he can teach those same skills to his players now.

“Kids need to understand they’re out there to have fun, but also to learn,” Dawson said.

One young player in Dawson’ summer camp was five-year-old Kevin Bermeo, who started playing with a soccer ball at the age of three. Bermeo, who attended all of Dawson’s summer sessions at Hammond Park, has learned everything from coordination while dribbling the ball to making a shot on goal. His favorite skill, however, is one of the flashier aspects of the game.

“I like bouncing [the ball] off my knee,” said the pint-sized player.

Dawson has no doubt influenced the enthusiasm of many young soccer fans like Kevin Bermeo as even his own eight-year-old son Jaden, a student at Atlanta International, has picked up the game.

“He loves it,” Dawson said. He loves to watch it.”

Dawson’s presence at Hammond Park has also won the favor of city recreation staff.

Debbie Strycula, the city’s recreation and parks manager, said the city is lucky to not only have someone with Dawson’s skill at their disposal, but also someone with his enthusiasm.

“It’s his passion,” Strycula said. “When you have someone who’s passionate about something, you can make things happen.”

Dawson said he wanted to come to Hammond Park and Sandy Springs because the soccer program is not affiliated with a club team and because he’d be able to expose area youth to the teachings of those who’ve played on various levels of organized soccer.

“They’re going to get quality coaching from guys who just love the game and want to come out and kick the ball with the kids,” Dawson said. “And there’s always a diamond in the rough that might come back and work with the organization.”

Dawson said because the Sandy Springs soccer program is young, it can go in a positive direction and end up without the politics that befall other local programs.

“It’s an extremely good opportunity for the City of Sandy Springs to start something out with just the city and people that live in the city,” Dawson said. “Other communities outside of this will start to take notice.”

While Dawson loves his coaching role at Hammond Park, he said he just missed professional soccer’s popularity wave in the United States.

“The MLS came in 1996 so I just missed the boat,” Dawson said. “I wish it had come a few years earlier.”

Registration for Hammond Park’s Recreational Soccer League for boys and girls ages 4 to 11 will begin on July 16. The cost is $95 for ages 4 to 7 and $115 for ages 8 to 11. The program includes weekly practices and games, clinics during the season and a game jersey for each player. Practices will be held on Wednesday and games on Saturdays.