‘TOPSoccer Coach of the Year’: Camas coach nets award

Rocky Fresh helps special needs children find footing on, off field

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Rocky Fresh (second from right) shows three TOPSoccer youth the ins and outs of controlling a soccer ball at the Salmon Creek Indoor Soccer Center.

A Camas soccer coach has been named the 2018 “TOPSoccer Coach of the Year” by the nonprofit U.S. Youth Soccer organization.

The national award is given to a volunteer who, according to the Youth Soccer group, “demonstrates patience, understanding, dependability, flexibility and ability to adjust to ever-changing on-field situations.”

Rocky Fresh ticked all of those boxes last year. A soccer coach for 35 years — mostly at large high schools in his home state of Ohio — Fresh says he discovered the “magic of the soccer ball” during childhood and never looked back.

Fresh’s career may span more than three decades, but it was his most recent work, coaching East Clark County children with special needs, that garnered recognition from TOPSoccer, a national, community-based training and team placement program that helps differently-abled children learn how to play soccer.

“We see magic happen every day,” Fresh said about the program. “We don’t approach these kids any differently than anyone else. I just try to give them what they need to enjoy and get the most out of the game.”

Fresh started volunteering with the TOPSoccer program in Salmon Creek in 2014, after moving from Ohio to Camas to take a general manager position at the Portland branch of PUGG, a manufacturer of portable soccer goals.

A longtime soccer enthusiast — he was only 14 years old when he started coaching youth soccer and led his team to a national championship — Fresh couldn’t give up his passion when he moved across the country. When he was introduced to the TOPSoccer organization, the official modified-soccer program for youth 4 to 18 who have physical and/or mental disabilities, Fresh was hooked.

The TOPSoccer program is less about teams and more about helping special needs youth develop soccer skills and gain confidence.

“It’s really about building competence that helps them in every other part of their life and that sense of accomplishment that is earned through hard work and enthusiasm,” Fresh said.

Fresh coaches about 50 children over the course of two sessions: one for children ages 4 to 10 and another for youth ages 11 to 18. Several of Fresh’s youth soccer athletes are Camas-Washougal students.

Fresh, who also is involved with the Washington Timbers Football Club program, which has youth soccer academies throughout Clark County, including Camas and Washougal, said soccer may be a simple game that only requires a ball and a goal, but that there is something magical about seeing that ball hit the back of the net.

Playing soccer can change lives for the better, Fresh said.

Fresh’s passion for the sport inspired Washington Timbers Executive Director Sean Janson, along with several Salmon Creek TOPSoccer parents, to nominate the Camas man for the national youth coaching award.

“Rocky is committed to providing a great experience for each kid and spends countless hours researching how to best provide a great soccer practice,” Janson said.

He said Fresh has added to the program in other ways, donating PUGG goals and working on grants to secure other soccer equipment.

Tara O’Gorman is the mother of one of Fresh’s young TOPSoccer players.

“Rocky makes my son feel as important as anyone on the field and whether a child is in a special walker or is non-verbal, Rocky engages each player in the action, always cautious of safety and individual needs,” O’Gorman said.

Letting every player find his or her way on the soccer field is a critical part of Fresh’s approach.

“This is what coaching has always been about for me — it’s letting kids experience the magic of the soccer ball,” Fresh said.

The local soccer community surprised Fresh by announcing his national TOPSoccer coach of the year award during halftime at a University of Portland soccer game in the fall of 2018.

Fresh will fly to Chicago on Wednesday, Jan. 9, to receive his award, and to talk about the TOPSoccer program at the national United Soccer Coaches Convention.