Hamm holds captive audience at camp

NORTHEAST GLENDALE — For the roughly 75 attendants of the 2010 FC Barcelona Camp Los Angeles, which is currently conducting a weeklong session at the Glendale Sports Complex presented by Warner Bros. Consumer Products, the rare opportunities to receive instruction from and play under the supervision of professional coaches from the world-renowned Spanish superpower soccer club were all at their fingertips.

And, if that alone wasn't enough to draw the interest of youth soccer players from far and wide, campers got a special treat on Tuesday morning when retired United States soccer superstar Mia Hamm dropped by to offer some pointers, join in scrimmages and just take some time to meet and greet players and sign autographs.

"Meeting Mia Hamm was a great experience," 15-year-old Kristin Lago of Downey said. "She's someone I really look up to in soccer."

Hamm, 38, who was a four-time national champion at the University of North Carolina and a two-time FIFA World Cup champion and Olympic Gold medalist before retiring from competitive soccer in 2004, signed on to be an official ambassador for FC Barcelona in Nov. 2009 with the directive of promoting the club and its outreach efforts in America.

"Sometimes I think when I'm away from [soccer], I forget how much I really miss it," Hamm said. "I'm at a stage where I know I can't compete at the level that I did, but I love to share this experience because this game has given me so much.

"[It's] just about confidence. If one kid can walk away from here with a new sense of his or herself, be it in the classroom or social, that's a win for this camp."

Decked out in the iconic scarlet and blue striped jerseys worn by the team, campers from grade-school all the way up to high-school age worked on fundamentals and advanced techniques in various groups on the complex's two adjacent fields under the guidance of FC Barcelona coaches, as well as veteran area coaches.

"It's a lot of fun and it's a great experience," Cristina Seta, 16, of Burbank said. "We get to learn new tricks and moves and they put us through things that we haven't seen before."

The lure of the FC Barcelona brand and the chance to be trained in its passing- and teamwork-oriented style was enough to draw 15-year-old Ian Heredia all the way from Seattle.

"Being associated with FC Barcelona is a true honor because of how they play the game," Hamm said. "[I appreciate] the responsibility with which they see themselves in trying to make not just the game of soccer better, but the world a better place with their academies and centers all over the world trying to help kids in disadvantaged areas."

Hamm donned an FC Barcelona uniform and got right into a light scrimmage with some of the campers before showcasing some of her moves in a casual five-on-five game between the FC Barcelona coaches and the local coaches.

"It was fun because we got to play with her and she taught us new tricks and how she plays," 13-year-old Delaney McNulty of Northridge said.

Said Lago: "So far, I think it's a really good experience because we're getting to be with people who enjoy the same thing we do, that we live for, and the teachers are really great. They've just taught us different moves to take home that we can do and it's been a lot of fun, too."

Hamm was younger than some of the campers on hand when she began playing for the U.S. National team at age 15.

"I was a really emotional kind of shy kid and soccer helped me get my voice," Hamm said, "It helped me gain an identity during my adolescent years and that identity helped kind of catapult me into the position where I am today, where people want to listen to what I have to say, and also it's given me a great core of amazing people."

Hamm's audience was certainly hanging on her every word on Tuesday and clearly appreciated the chance to spend some time with a legend of the sport.

"It was like a big honor for me," 17-year-old Andrew Oronia of Temple City said. " Just going out and playing with her and touching the ball away from her was a really good experience for me."

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