Alex Alvarez had plenty of reasons to smile Saturday morning, April 29, despite the cloudy skies that sent stiff gusts of wind across the Atmore Area YMCA’s soccer fields. In fact, he had more than 100 reasons.
“It’s a great addition, and it’s growing by leaps and bounds,” said Alvarez, who is vice-president of Atmore Soccer Inc. and a volunteer coach, as he nodded his head toward the adjacent fields on which about 130 other kids were taking part in the local program’s Spring 2017 home openers for the local squads. “We started the program last spring, and we did clinics at all five Atmore schools. We didn’t know what was going to happen, but we have gone from having 30 kids in the fall of 2015, to 90 last spring, and this spring we have around 110.”
Throw in several teams that traveled here from Loxley for the competition, factor in the parents, grandparents, siblings and others who accompanied the visitors and came out to support the local players, and you have quite a crowd.
“This is a typical Saturday home game,” Alvarez said. “We almost always have a good crowd. The program is proving to be a community based thing, too. We’ve got parents who show up on Fridays to help paint the fields; we have people who come out early on Saturday to help set up for the games, and we have people who stay late to help take the stuff away when the games are over.”
He also pointed to the signage that covered the fence that abuts the soccer fields, citing that as another sign of the program’s growing success.
“We have tons of sponsorship now,” he said. “And it’s not because they get all that much advertising out of it; it’s because these businesses and people believe in the program. “We’ve got a great group on our board, and a great group of volunteer coaches.”
The booster club official expressed his disappointment that none of the local middle or high schools has a soccer program.
“Soccer is the fastest-growing sport in the world, and it’s time for our county to take it up, too,” he said. “I would love to see a middle school soccer program to start with, so these kids would have somewhere to go, something to look forward to.
“Not everybody is cut out to be a football player, basketball player or baseball player. (Soccer is) new, and it takes a while for things to get going, but this rec league has proven that we have a community that will support a soccer program.”
He also expressed satisfaction over the recent clinic held here by Kerry Edwards, goalkeeper coach for the University of South Alabama women’s team (the university does not have a men’s program), and two of her players.
“USA is a great partner to have,” he agreed. “Having a collegiate support system is great, especially for the girls. Most of the kids on my team will be going to their summer camp.”
But most of all, Alvarez is happy with the positive lessons learned by the youngsters who participate in the local program.
“It’s all about providing good mentorship and character building,” he said. “It’s been really great to watch it grow, and I’m really proud of it.”