Setting goals

Craig Youth Soccer Association tries to build viable program

Cole DuBois remembers when his brother, a 2005 Moffat County High graduate, would beg his friends to play just so there would be a youth soccer team. On Thursday, DuBois, an eighth-grader at Craig Middle School, looked out across Woodbury Park and he saw a different situation.

"There are a lot of kids out here," he said. "Numbers for soccer have been down, but there are more out here now."

On Thursday, all Craig Youth Soccer Association players were at practice. There were more than 100 young soccer players at Woodbury Park ages 4 to 14.

Full soccer fields are a good sign considering that in August when the Board of Directors for the CYSA met, the board had no idea who was going to be in charge and what was going to happen.

"We had board members stepping down, and we hadn't started a season when other fall sports had already started," board member Mike Laliberte said. "But things have come together quickly in a short time."

Dropping the cost

At the board meeting, Laliberte volunteered to step up as president. LaShanna Cox took over as registrar, which became a new paid position for CYSA. One of the first decisions the board made is that CYSA wouldn't charge for the fall season.

Members of the board then went to their connections in the elementary schools, Craig Intermediate School and Craig Middle School for help.

Fliers were handed out in the schools before registration.

"We tried to find as many people as we could who were interested," Cox said. "The numbers were declining the last couple of years so we set modest goals to increase."

Then, 100 players registered.

"I think having it free helped for some," DuBois said. "But mostly I just think more people knew about it."

Moffat County boys soccer coach Jeff Hammond is a past president of the CYSA.

"We've had interest before," he said. "The problem is where to go from there."

The athletic programs at Craig Middle School have opportunities to play Rangely, Meeker, Soroco and Hayden in addition to Steamboat Springs. Only Steamboat Springs has a middle school soccer program of those five schools.

"There's nobody to play at the middle school level," Hammond said. "There are so many other activities in town that kids can do at that age, it's hard to keep them interested in soccer."

Laliberte said that Rangely and Meeker have younger soccer teams but "it's a different skill level. We either beat everybody badly (Rangely and Meeker) or get beat badly (Steamboat)."

The board is in contact with both the Western Slope Soccer League and the Colorado State Youth Soccer Association to find additional game options.

"In the past, we've had to beg other towns just to scrimmage us, and they won't come here to play," Laliberte said. "In the fall, we would basically scrimmage and practice without any viable games."

The Steamboat Springs Youth Soccer Association is a part of the CSYSA. During the season, their teams play five games on the Front Range and five games in Steamboat Springs.

"For us, it's about the same drive to play in Rifle as it is to play in Denver," said Rob Bohlmann, Steamboat Springs High School coach and director of Steamboat Soccer Academy. "We have more depth in competition if we travel to the CSYSA games."

For Craig teams it would be another two hours in a round trip to be a part of the CSYSA. And it is not clear that teams would be willing to travel to Craig.

A good start

An integral part of any organization is volunteers and the CYSA has been fortunate in that area.

"We've always had the volunteers," Laliberte said. "But it's hard not to burn them out because they have to do so much."

Laliberte and Cox both have children in the league, and both of their spouses coach in the league as well. "A lot of the reason we're involved is our children are out there," Cox said. "But we want to set it up to succeed even when our kids aren't there."

One positive for the league is that coaches for the two U-14 teams have previous soccer experience. Seth Young and Laurie Fraher are first-year teachers in the school district.

"We have coaches who know soccer at the upper levels," Laliberte said. "That makes our program more credible."

A goal that the board has set is to expand the program among girls and the Hispanic community.

"There's no reason we can't generate the numbers in those two areas," Laliberte said. "There has always been a lot larger number of boys, and sometimes the word doesn't get out to the Hispanic community."

Isidro Quezada Sr., who coaches El Mexico, an adult soccer team of mostly Hispanic players, joined the board after seeing how many kids were coming to the practice in the fall.

"He was excited," Laliberte said. "Soccer is an important part of their culture, and they embrace the sport. You can see the benefits of the integration of Hispanic players with the high school team."

The girls program

The girls soccer program at the high school is the only program not to make the postseason in the past six years. A lot of times girls are learning to play soccer for the first time in high school.

That may be about to change.

Fraher coaches the first-ever all girls U-14 team. Previously the teams would always be co-ed. It's not a perfect situation because to get the numbers there are fourth-graders on a team that plays against middle schoolers.

"It's something to build from," Fraher said. "Hopefully they can have some consistency in coaching as well because they haven't in the past."

Fraher helped coach the high school team last spring.

"There were a lot of basics that we had to teach that they could have learned at a younger level," she said. "We have a game tomorrow, and I'm still just showing them passing and trapping."

If the program can continue to keep up the numbers of girls, "it could be a great feeder program for the high school," Fraher said.

The association needs money if it is to continue to reach its goals. Those funds are going to be established through several means. Players will have to pay a fee to play in the spring. Part of that fee will be to purchase jerseys that players can keep. In the past, jerseys that were purchased by the association were supposed to be returned but often weren't.

The board has established a fundraising committee to raise money before the spring.

"Right now our budget is dictating our program," Laliberte said. "We want it to be the other way around. Our main income is from the United Way, and we hope to not rely solely on that."

Laliberte and Cox agree that there has been a lot accomplished in just a month but there's a long way to go from here.

"We're happy with where we're at right now," Cox said.

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