Have you ever wondered how a youth soccer league is formed? While many clubs have been around for decades in larger cities, leagues in smaller towns are often much younger – if they even have one. But if they do, you might not realize what went into the formation of the league or why it was formed.
While clicking around the SoccerSphere, I happened upon a post at LDSM, Soccer Mom that immediately caught my eye: The Mebane Striker. Why, you ask? Well, because I live in Mebane. She was commenting on how lucky her kids were that they lived in a city with a thriving soccer program and that it could have been much much worse:
I stop and think about how much I complain about not having anyone to carpool with, and then think about how it would have been if I had lived in Moncure, or Mebane, or anywhere else in NC where I couldn’t have gotten my kid to a halfway-decent club to play without a huge amount of effort (and gas.)
About 5 years ago my husband and I went in as partners on a tiny business in Mebane, NC. For some reason our children were afraid we were going to leave Chapel Hell and move to this tiny little town. We decided to play along and tell our then-12-year old son that he would have to change soccer clubs. We even went so far as to make him up a T-shirt that said "Mebane Striker."
He was concerned when he saw the shirt. "They forgot the ‘S’, " he said.
"No," we assured him. "You’re it. You’re the only kid who plays soccer in Mebane. You’re the Mebane Striker."
"I hate you both," he said, not for the last time.
I laughed out loud when I read this. You see, Mebane didn’t have a soccer league five years ago. We had thriving baseball, basketball, and football programs, all played at a beautiful arts & sports complex and run by the city Recreation and Parks department. But there "wasn’t enough interest in soccer" for a soccer program in Mebane. If you lived in Mebane and wanted to play soccer, you had to travel 20-30 miles to either Burlington or Chapel Hill.
One day in mid 2001, back when life was simple and we had two children instead of four, my wife came home and mentioned that some parents were going to put together a soccer clinic. She had heard about it from another mom at our son’s day care. He had just turned 4 and liked to kick a soccer ball around, so we had talked about exploring local soccer programs. However, we weren’t keen on the drive so we decided to take our son to this program.
The ‘clinic’ was being run by a couple of fathers who wanted their kids to play soccer. By word of mouth, they found about 16 or so other families with young children (4-5 years old) that wanted to participate. We had T-Shirts made up for them and they practiced together on an old baseball field (with really tall grass!). They learned basic skills and played scrimmages for most of the fall. Our eldest had a lot of fun and he wasn’t the only one. Most of the families and children who participated were now hooked on soccer, so the parents began to seriously investigate options for their kids to play organized soccer.
Word of the little clinic spread and soon other parents with kids playing soccer elsewhere were agreeing that Mebane needed a soccer program. The city still felt there wasn’t enough interest to form a program, but they offered to let us use the outfields of the city baseball fields AND to buy a few soccer goals if the parents would run the league.
That spring, the two parents that had run the little clinic. plus a few other parents of soccer players, formed the Mebane Youth Soccer Association the next Spring. Worried that there wouldn’t be enough kids to form viable divisions at some ages, the founding parents agreed to join forces with a fledgling soccer program in a nearby town and have the older kids (U8 and U10) play both here and there. I remember that the U6 kids played behind one of the elementary schools on a fairly flat patch of grass.
That first Spring, I think we had around 200 children sign up to play which surprised everyone. Clearly there was interest. That was my first and last season as a ‘parent’ since the founding coaches who had coached my son were moving to the next age division, so they asked if I would coach the team. Little did I know what was in store!
The league grew every season by significant amounts. Two years later, in the Spring of 2004, there were 400 kids signed up to play soccer and we were on our own, having decided to part ways with the nearby town the previous year. Clearly there was interest. By the Fall of 2004 we had 500 kids signed up and the City Council realized that there really was significant interest in soccer. They proposed building a new soccer complex on land across the street from the current Arts & Community Center and baseball complex, which completely surprised us, but we were extremely grateful.
Not long after that, we decided to pursue affiliation with our state soccer association and to become a non-profit organization (up until then it had been pretty informal). As part of this affiliation we wanted to be able to field Challenge (travel) teams as well. We gained our Level II state affiliation in the Spring of this year.
Where are we today? Looking at our stats for this Fall (2006), we have just over 700 players playing on 66 teams in divisions U5 through U15, both recreational and challenge. Not a huge program by any stretch, but a decent one. It still amazes me the growth our league has seen in just 5 years.
So that’s a quick history of how our league was formed and why. What we experienced isn’t earth shattering, but reading Lisa’s post had me thinking about all that had happened in the five years since she toyed with her son, calling him the Mebane Striker because Mebane had no soccer program. Want to know what was really funny? That little soccer clinic that started it all five years ago on an old ballfield? They were called the Mebane Strikers.
In a nutshell, that’s how our town got a soccer league. The parents couldn’t convince the town to form one so they formed their own with the town’s blessing. Hope you don’t mind my little trip down memory lane. I’m sure there are many other interesting stories behind the formation of rural clubs. Be sure to share them in the comments if you know of any!