While last year saw a record number of youth soccer players take to the pitches here, convener Gord Witherspoon is expecting that surge in popularity to grow even more this year.
Last year, 462 kids registered to play one of Canada’s increasingly popular sports, comprising of 28 “mini” soccer teams and eight “full-field” ones, and Witherspoon said he expects that number to top 500 this year.
In fact, there’s been a steady increase over the past few years. Just two years ago, only 340 kids signed up to play soccer here.
“I think we’ll see a slight increase [again this year] because we actually had to turn back quite a few [kids] last year. We only had to make room for so many,” said Witherspoon, noting the league, which is run as a separate entity from the town, is in the midst of starting its eighth season.
But he also stressed it’s imperative that parents register their kids during the two designated dates—Thursday, April 9 and Tuesday, April 14—at Memorial Arena.
“I usually get a thousand calls after the registration at home and I just hate turning down the kids,” he lamented.
Witherspoon said they have expanded the program to accommodate the expected influx of kids wanting to play, adding he believes he knows, at least in part, the reason why soccer has taken off here in recent years.
“I call hockey an equipment sport whereas soccer is really inexpensive to play. All you need is soccer cleats and a ball,” he said.
Cost for “mini” soccer (for ages five to 10) is $30 per child while “full-field soccer” costs $45 per child for those aged 11-12 and $60 each for those 13-15 ($45 registration and $15 jersey deposit).
The eight-week season is expected to open May 4 and conclude June 25.
But Witherspoon also said the league is in dire need of volunteers to help assist as coaching, referees, conveners, and schedulers.
“With 200 kids it wasn’t too bad but now it’s becoming too much [for just a few volunteers],” he stressed.
“Anyone can be a manager for the ‘mini’ soccer,” he said. “You don’t need any playing or coaching experience. We give them a [coach’s] handbook and the refs are always helping the players with the rules.”
But he added the league needs additional “qualified” coaches with extensive soccer knowledge to teach those at the older level.
Witherspoon said they may organize a clinic down the road to improve the quality of coaching in town although they have no plans for now to conduct one this year.
The “mini” soccer league will continue to play at the Sixth Street School while the older players will be forced to move to the Westfort fields while the St. Francis pitches are being repaired.
But Witherspoon said there shouldn’t be any problems regarding playing time with the reduced fields, noting the men’s and women’s Borderland leagues don’t start play until 7 p.m.
Meanwhile, Witherspoon stressed that to continue the success of the program, organizers are hoping to get a financial break from the town so they can buy more soccer balls.
Last year they were forced to purchase additional nets to accommodate the extra games.
“It would be really nice if we could put some money back into the community,” he said. “The Shriners bought all the game T-shirts for the five- and six-year-olds, which helped us out a lot.”