Youth soccer to kick off season soon

They began as a small group of soccer enthusiasts competing on the playgrounds at Sixth Street School back in the early 1990s.
Slowly but surely, however, under the tutelage of soccer proponents like Jim Curr, Gord Witherspoon, the late Struchan Gilson, Rick and Dale Chambers, James Dobie (and many others), the Fort Frances Youth Soccer program, which now fields more than 700 players, has developed into one of the largest youth recreational groups in town.
In an era where youth recreation has become a focal point for many families, the soccer program has thrived for a number of reasons.
Reasonable registration fees, along with minimal equipment requirements, often are cited as two important factors in the mass participation, along with an emphasis on fun.
It also helps that the soccer fields are easily accessible for practice and fun games, and that the continuous play by area children has bred a much more refined level of soccer skill locally.
Although that skill development always has been a key component of the youth program, FFYS also has placed a strong emphasis on inclusion. The program has developed around the concept that everyone was welcome: girls, boys, skilled athletes, and those that had never played before.
The philosophy that everyone plays, regardless of ability, and also the co-ed nature of the games, generally has allowed for competition without conflict, and fostered enjoyment and personal growth for all who participate.
Russ Ling, a longtime FFYS board member, has observed many changes in the program.
“The growth has been amazing, more and more kids come into the soccer program every year,” he noted. “At one time if we had a couple of full fields and four mini fields going, that was a busy night . . . now we’ll have nine fields, 30 or more games, and over 400 kids playing in a single night.
“When you add in coaches and referees, siblings, parents, and grandparents of the players, you’ll probably have close to 800 people at the fields.”
With the exceptional growth comes challenges in maintaining and improving the program.
Tara Redford, who had been involved in coaching for many years, and took over as vice-president of FFYS last year, said the program has a number of goals for the 2008 season.
“The board has met often since the beginning of the year, and we are in the final stages of developing formal emergency procedures and evacuation procedures policies that will be in place for the 2008 season,” she noted.
“The ‘Squirt’ program we implemented last year went over very well, and this year we’re hoping for even more parent participation,” Redford added.
“The parents don’t have to know anything about soccer,” she stressed. “We have experienced coaches who will take the lead, and offer them advice and coaching materials, so they can learn and continue to coach as their children move to the older leagues.”
In keeping with the FFYS philosophy of skill development, Redford said coaches at all levels this season will receive a coaching package outlining exactly what skills their athletes should be learning.
The package also will contain the specific drills the coaches will use to help the players achieve the desired skills (these will be handed out at a mandatory meeting to be held shortly before the season begins).
Also on the agenda this season will be securing nightly “field generals.” Since the program has grown to such a large degree, the FFYS board has decided that having a specific person in charge each night (to open and close the building, hand out equipment, discuss any issues that may arise, and sound the alarm in case of bad weather) is critical.
The board currently is looking for four volunteers who consistently are available one night per week (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday) to step forward and accept that responsibility.
A change in referee-in-chief also has taken place for this season as longtime head official and local teacher Trevor Hands has had to step away due to other commitments.
Accepting the head referee position is Victor Sousa of Fort Frances, who has refereed youth, high school, and men’s and women’s league soccer for several years.
He will be in charge of all youth officiating, co-ordinating supervision of the more than 40 FFYS officials.
Anyone wishing to help with the FFYS program this season should speak with Redford or association president Sarah Gould, or contact any of the 2008 board of directors.
The new executive also is made up of directors James Dobie, Russ Ling, Mike LaClair, Shauna Leigh Carlson, Andrea Perreault, Catherine McGuire, and Amy Wilson-Hands, along with treasurer Lisa Grinsell, secretary Loreen Peters, and past president Rick Chambers.
Registration for the upcoming season will be held Monday, March 17 and Wednesday, March 19 from 6-8 p.m. in the lobby of the Memorial Sports Centre.
The season will begin April 28 and end with the wind-up on June 21.
Complete registration information appears elsewhere in today’s edition of the Fort Frances Times.
In other soccer news, the Borderland Soccer Association’ annual general meeting will be held tomorrow (March 6) at 6:30 p.m. in Room 138 at Fort Frances High School.
Those will questions regarding the local adult leagues can contact Timea Fleury at 274-2614 or visit www.borderlandsoccer.com for more details.