The path we TRAVELed to promote youth soccer.

There was a time we here in rural west central Ohio were being left behind in the world of US Soccer. While there remains a measure of truth to this even today, we have made tremendous progress, especially in the last decade.

In the mid 1990's I was coaching my son Grant's recreational team in the West Central Ohio Soccer Association (WCOSA) of which the Shawnee Youth Soccer Association (SYSA) was a member. The SYSA had been founded in part by my father and father-in-law to help promote the sport of soccer in our area. At the time being discussed here there were 4 teams in Grant's age group! Interest in the sport was exploding. These teams were randomly selected with the talent being divided amongst all teams. There were a host of local tournaments unsanctioned by United States Youth Soccer Association (USYSA) that served WCOSA and other teams from independent organizations.  As Grant's teams became dominant in these events we began searching for a higher level of competition. This meant going to USYSA events.  The only problem was as an independent team from an independent league we were not registered with USYSA and therefore did not have player / coach cards.  I set about obtaining cards only to learn Ohio-North, Ohio-South and USYSA would not issue us cards unless we played in a sanctioned league. There were not individual / guest player cards allowed at the time. There were no event rosters allowed at the time. In short, I was told by various people at both the state and national levels of USYSA there was no way to obtain cards for this team short of joining an Ohio-North or Ohio-South sponsored USYSA league.

We were not the only ones experiencing these difficulties and soon our areas first club began forming. This became West Central United. From the beginning I was a bit uncomfortable with this clubs emphasis on winning. I wasn't the only one and in short order a group left and formed Grand Lake United with an emphasis on developing players.  This was more to my liking.  Grand Lake United (GLU) is now the oldest surviving youth soccer club in west central Ohio having absorbed West Central United a few years ago.

WCOSA is comprised of a loose band of community / school based soccer organizations. We "traveled" about west central Ohio to play one another. Most trips were between a few minutes up to perhaps 45 minutes.  The word "travel"  was redefined for us while competing for Grand Lake United.  Our home pitch was 20 minutes away in those days while we often traveled an hour plus one way for away matches.  Tournament play... well, tournament play was in Ohio's largest cities and quickly expanded to neighboring states.

Our middle son, Treg, followed in big brothers footsteps to play in WCOSA during the fall and then Grand Lake United in the spring. Once in high school both boys played for their high school teams in the fall and then for GLU in the spring. It wasn't until our youngest son began playing that we abandoned SYSA / WCOSA completely. I organized and coached our areas first year round team to play solely in a USYSA league. Lance's GLU team competed in the Miami Valley Youth Soccer Association (MVYSA) of Ohio-South.  Eventually that group would compete in the Buckeye Premier League (BPL), various college showcase events and more tournaments than I care to remember.  Every single player from the last two years has had the opportunity to go on to play in college. Not all decided to do so, but the opportunity existed for them to do so.

Grand Lake United has been joined in serving our area by a handful of other clubs in recent years. Another sign of the growth the sport of soccer has enjoyed.  In fact, some of the WCOSA based community programs have left to join USYSA leagues over the last years. Youth soccer in the area is experiencing some growing pains once again with some long-time WCOSA powerhouses seeing an erosion of participation as players and their families look for "more" out of the youth soccer experience. I understand this - it is exactly what we did 20 years ago.

Look for more on this subject in future writings.

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