Southern Prairie YMCA and Creston Park and Recreation Department have collaborated for a significant change in the city’s youth soccer program.
For many years, the Bill Sears Complex was a beehive of soccer activity on autumn Saturdays for youngsters ranging from kindergarten through middle school.
That was the city’s recreational team program. In the spring, the YMCA offered a soccer clinic, emphasizing skills development over competition.
Gradually over time, flag football started to catch on with younger age groups, while at the same time youth tackle football gained a stronghold throughout the area. Soon, parents were left with choices to make regarding Saturdays, and soccer participation numbers were diminishing.
Mark Huff, city park and recreation director, saw a solution. There was a sliver of “open” time on parents’ activity calendar in the early spring, just before the youth softball and baseball programs got into the heart of their busy schedules.
It coincided with the traditional YMCA soccer clinics.
“Mark said their numbers had been dropping for the fall season, and we talked about bringing our programs together,” said Cody Hudson, youth sports and aquatics director at Southern Prairie YMCA.
“Our camps that we do are geared more toward development, and not so much competition,” Hudson said. “This way, we could still have that learning situation for the kids, but go right into the (city’s) team competition if they choose to do that. We thought it would be a good partnership.”
So, each age group on Saturdays includes an optional 30-minute soccer camp prior to that age group’s games. Youths could register for only the camps ($30 each except $20 for preschool), only the games ($20) or both for a fee of $40.
All of the soccer activity is held at the soccer fields across the street north of the ballfields, so soccer goals don’t have to be placed on those fields anymore as softball and baseball teams hold practices for their upcoming seasons.
“Last fall we really started to notice our fall soccer numbers were dropping,” Huff said. “There were so many conflicts with flag football and padded tackle football. Coaches, and kids, were pulled too many directions trying to get to everything. I called the Y and said I was thinking of going to spring, and I knew they had camps in the spring. I thought it would be better to combine our programs, rather than try to have two separate ones at the same time of the year.”
The program began April 5 with both camps and games held each Saturday through April 26. While the camps conclude then, games continue on Saturdays through May 10.
“The first Little League games start around May 15, and we’ll be done, so this has worked out pretty smooth,” Huff said. “We know there are some kids playing Wildfire (club) soccer in the spring, and we may not get all of them in our program in the spring, but combining our programs should make it better.”
Hudson said turnout has been strong, considering there wasn’t much notice to families that the change was taking place this year.
“For the older groups, I know there’s Wildfire and some other things going on,” Hudson said, “but I was pleasantly surprised that we had 30 sign up for the preschool camp, and the 56 kids in the the K-1 camp is a great number.”
There are eight teams competing on Saturdays in the kindergarten-first grade division, four teams in second-third grades and two teams in fourth-sixth grades.
There are 30 youths participating in the second-third grade camp and 18 in the fourth-sixth grade camp.
“The good thing about this is, soccer is a sport that’s played in the spring in high school, so now by combining with the Y, we’re getting them used to the idea of playing that sport in the spring,” Huff said.
The schedule of camps and games by age division, all at the Bill Sears Complex on Clark Street:
Preschool camp — 8-8:30 a.m.
Kindergarten-first grade camp — 8:30-9 a.m.
Kindergarten-first grade league (8 teams) — 9-10 a.m.
Second-third grade camp — 9-9:30 a.m.
Second-third grade league (4 teams) — 9:30-10:30 a.m.
Fourth-sixth grade camp — 10-10:30 a.m.
Fourth-sixth grade league (2 teams) — 10:30-11:15 a.m.