Author Topic: Soccer enjoys popularity  (Read 830 times)

Offline David

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Soccer enjoys popularity
« on: May 08, 2007, 04:17:19 PM »
Jessica Tippie is noticing her soccer games are becoming more competitive.

The 12-year-old students at Central Middle School in Port Huron Township who plays for the Blue Water Lakers under-13 team said more and more kids are coming out to play the sport. And to her, the reason is pretty obvious.

"Isn't it, like, the world's most famous sport?" she said.

It is. And with the events of the past year - the World Cup and English superstar David Beckham signing a lucrative deal with Major League Soccer - now seems like as good a time as any to capitalize on the popularity of the sport.

"I think with Beckham coming to the United States - and there are a lot of good-looking kids playing for (MLS') DC United and Chicago Fire - I think that also spiked interest," said Kristi Donaldson, a member of the Blue Water Soccer Club board.

Youth soccer leagues in the Blue Water Area recently started their seasons, and there seems to be a trend.

Donaldson said there are fewer people involved with the American Youth Soccer Organization in China Township now than there were when her kids were playing in the late 1990s. But she said more kids are getting involved with travel teams. She added Port Huron's AYSO has grown.

"I do think it's kind of cyclical," she said.

Blue Water Soccer Club Vice President Todd Stank said the move has come because of the higher level of competition at the club level.

"We've experienced a noticeable rise in the amount of interest to club or select soccer in the last year," Stank said. "I think they're realizing in order to compete with the larger schools, in order to prepare kids for the high school level, or even the college level, they need to play at the club level.

"I think AYSO serves a good purpose if someone wants to play just for the joy of playing."

Stank added club and premiere - the level above select, or club - soccer are the best avenues to take when looking for college scholarships.

St. Clair High School junior Chris Handlon has been playing travel soccer for several years with both the Lakers and the Carpathia Kickers, a premiere team out of Sterling Heights. This year, he is playing on the Lakers' under-19 team and said the interest is as high as it's ever been.

"We had more people try out this year than any other year," he said. "All around (the level of play is better), instead of teams having just three or four guys that could dominate.

"It's getting better."

That comes back to Beckham - who Handlon was quick to point out, "is going to be the highest paid athlete in the world" - and the other factors around the country.

But Donaldson and Stank give more credit to the women's national team for the growth of soccer in the United States.

"Growth in soccer has all come from the women's end," Stank said. "What the women have done, and the ambassadors they have been for this sport, has just been amazing.

"Not to say the men haven't, but they certainly haven't had the success."

Stank did say the United States will see the benefits of Beckham coming to the MLS in the not-so-distant future.

"I think Beckham coming over is certainly going to do good things," he said. "I don't think we're ready to reap the rewards.

"Within a year or so, depending on how he does."

Handlon said the current surge could cause another in the next generation.

"I just think because more people in high school are playing it, they're going to take it to their kids," he said. "I know I'm going to make sure my kids play soccer."

http://www.thetimesherald.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070508/NEWS01/705080302/1002