A Soccer player at Cesar Chavez Academy advances the ball during play
Fred Hunter, of Think Detroit PAL, said introducing youth to the game at an early age precipitates growth.
“Once you get them playing young, they develop a love for the sport,” said Hunter, the director of quality assurance for the youth sports organization.
Hunter said of the estimated 1,000 players registered for the Think Detroit PAL leagues, 60 to 70 percent are between the ages of 6 to 12.
Participants may begin play at age 4 – in select instances – and continue through high school.
Soccer in the city hasn’t suffered from a lack of interest, he said. Despite fielding an estimated 90 teams throughout the year, some young athletes weren’t able to take the field. A lack of resources forced the organization to cut off spring registration at roughly 1,000. Hunter said the leagues need more help from people with soccer experience.
“The key is getting quality coaches and volunteers that have a desire and ability to improve the skills of the youth,” he remarked.
Limited resources have also affected the Rosedale Soccer League. Commissioner Deborah Lowery said the league raised its registration fee from $35 to $50 for the upcoming fall season. A reduction in field rental fees and additional volunteers would afford more players the opportunity to play, she said.
Medvis Jackson Sr., men’s and women’s soccer coach at Renaissance High School, noted potential improvements.
“Once we put some infrastructure into place, I think the game will take off,” said Jackson, who has been involved with soccer for nearly 40 years. “If it’s an official sport, you’ll see more people stepping up.”
In 2003, before the merger with PAL, Think Detroit established its high school soccer program with the Detroit Public Schools. Soccer operates as a club sport in the DPS system. A move to the varsity level would likely require schools to build facilities and provide more financial support.
Maintaining equipment and finding a place to play sometimes poses a problem.
The Rosedale League utilizes soccer fields at Rosedale Park, St. Scholastica and Christ the King schools. The league must pay an annual fee of $300 to rent the fields at St. Scholastica and Christ the King, and $400 to rent Rosedale. Other costs include soccer camp, coach and referee training, insurance and uniforms. Lowery said her experience has been overwhelming on occasion, but rewarding overall.
Her involvement with the Rosedale League stemmed from her children’s participation. Upon registration, parents are expected to assist the youth league. All three of Lowery’s children continue to play in Rosedale.
She served as an age group coordinator for two years and has worked as commissioner the last five years. During her tenure, the participation has grown from 250 to 334 players last year. Lowery said the game’s numbers will continue to expand, but the current economy may hinder development.
In an effort to increase parental and community involvement, the Rosedale League plans to pay referees in the fall. The move toward compensation will serve as incentive for people to learn the rules of the game and induce them to volunteer.
Despite the obstacles, passion for the sport of soccer persists.
“We’ve got to go down to Southwest Detroit, the East Side, we have to organize all these kids,” said Jackson, whose four children have all played soccer. “There’s a need for a federation of soccer.”
Whether the World Cup has a lasting impact on the city is unknown. Ambassadors of the game remain optimistic that there is room for another brand of football on Detroit’s athletic stage.
For more information about Think Detroit PAL, visit www.thinkdetroit.org or call (313) 833-1600. For more information about the Rosedale Soccer League, e-mail .
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