Fort Frances Youth Soccer program seeks volunteers

Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Soccer is a sport that promotes teamwork, concentration, and self-discipline. With comfy shoes, a ball, and enough space to run around in, anyone and everyone can play.

Starting October 3, the Fort Frances Youth Soccer (FFYS) program runs on Monday and Wednesday evenings. The five to seven age group will play from 6:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m., and the eight to twelve age group will play from 7:00 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. at the Robert Moore School gymnasium. Youths will practice soccer drills for 20 minutes and then play a game for the remaining time.

As with most programs, volunteers are needed to help with smooth-running and safety of all participants. This is especially important because bumps and scrapes are common for any sport with young kids, and a volunteer could address injuries while allowing the coach to focus on the game.

The hope is for the soccer program to expand and continue to run for the following years, providing an accessible and affordable sport for many.

Tristan Hutton, “soccer aficionado” and coach for the eight to twelve age group, said he fell in love with sports at the age of six where he grew up in Ottawa. He played soccer all his life and always had an “inkling” for the sport, even though he ended up as a competitive swim coach. As a young boy, Hutton played for the city of Gatineau in Quebec, and later for the men’s league in Fort Frances.

“The reason why I didn’t stick with soccer as a youth was because I was so poorly organized in Canada, it was always second fiddle to hockey and nobody really gave it any chance. When I was growing up in the 70s everybody wanted to be like the next Guy Lafleur or something like that.”

“Not everybody’s into hockey, right? Not everybody can afford hockey. And soccer is just so cheap. All you need is a ball, a dozen kids, some running shoes, and off you go,” Hutton said. “Kids play hockey almost eight months a year. It’d be nice if we could help the ones that don’t want to do hockey or can’t. We could offer them soccer. And so we could do indoor in the fall and soccer outdoors during the summer.”

Hutton’s sons are also soccer fans, which also encouraged Hutton to revive the soccer program in Fort Frances.

“My boys, we watch the European leagues a lot. We follow Team Canada we’re all excited that Team Canada is going to the FIFA World Cup for the first time in 40 years. So yeah, we would like to see a soccer program developed for people who like to play soccer.”

In 2019, before the pandemic, Hutton helped run the summer soccer program which gathered around 800 people in the St. Francis Fields in the west end of Fort Frances. Fort Frances has abundant green fields making it the perfect place for a soccer program, providing sunlight and fun for all ages.

This year’s efforts also hope to reinstate an organizing committee.

“There were five men’s teams, four women’s teams and like 800 kids out there playing soccer on a regular basis,” Hutton said. “And we think that has to do with the level of expertise that had been developed over a bunch of years. But one of the difficulties is that everything works by committee. And after a while some of the people leave because their kids are grown and it’s time for them to do other stuff and you lose that expertise.”

“And I think we kind of fell in a loop where we lost a lot of that expertise of how to run things, how to set up things, how to deal with the town and get the field organized, and motivate people to volunteer. So me and Penny are looking to try and get that started again.”

Penny Hutton is treasurer for FFYS Board, and coach for the five to seven age group. She said that the soccer program had “an overwhelming response” and registration filled up on the first day.

Many parents have added their kids to the waitlist for the soccer program. The program accepted 20 people to start, but will increase the number if volunteers are recruited.

“We have about 15 on the waitlist the last time I checked. I haven’t checked for about two days,” she said. “There’s room in the gym for more. It’s just I can’t handle 40 kids on my own.”

Penny hopes that parents will stay and watch their kids during the hour of drills and play.

“I want them to have fun, and I want them to be safe. So I don’t want the other kids to be not safe while I’m dealing with something else.”

“We had a really successful spring soccer session. And we had eight full teams of 20 kids on each team. We kept filling up, basically. You asked me why I’m excited. I’m so excited because it’s nice to see soccer making a comeback because it’s kind of petered out over the past few years.”

Penny said that the FFYS Board is open if anyone wants to join and provide input.

“We’re willing to listen to suggestions and stuff, especially this first go-around. We’re gonna see how it goes. And we are hoping to run a winter program as well for eight weeks. So any feedback that we get, you know, after this one runs, we’ll adjust to make changes as needed.”

Since September 14, an adult indoor soccer league for ages 14+ has also been held on Mondays and Wednesdays from 7:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. at the high school gymnasium.

The program days will change to Tuesday and Wednesdays in November.

“It’s just for anyone who wants to come out and kick the ball around,” said Tyler Ruppenstein, an organizer of the adult soccer league.

“I’ve got the gym book until early March. So hopefully we can keep it up till then. And as long as numbers stay high, and we actually get people showing up.”

Ruppenstein played in the youth league back in the days, and was also coached by Hutton as a competitive swimmer. Last year, Ruppenstein coached the Muskie girls high school soccer team.

“Not everyone plays hockey, although that is the biggest sport in the area. So it’s just nice to have options for other sports that don’t get as much love in this area,” he said.

“Winning the Norwalk School was pretty cool. That’s probably my favorite memory, winning the gold medal and the Norwalk finals.”

The adult soccer league is open for drop-ins for the cost of $10 for the season.

Hutton said one of the most important lessons when playing soccer is teamwork.

“I always ask the kids questions at the beginning of the year: ‘What’s your definition of a good soccer player?’ And, you know, they come up with a standard. [They’ll say], ‘lots of goals,’ ‘lots of talent.’ And I say, ‘no, a good soccer player is a person who makes his teammates look good.’”

“Like if you’re on a breakaway, but two guys are on you and your teammates open on the other side, the best play is to pass the ball. It’s not to try and blast the ball through the defensive. Make your teammate look good,” Hutton said.

The youth soccer program dwindled down after the pandemic, but this year’s registration has shown that soccer is still a vital sport in the community. Any and all volunteers are welcomed.

“Let’s make soccer great again!” Hutton said.

To volunteer for the Fort Frances Youth Soccer program, email or reach out through Facebook.