TEAM spirit lives at Sporting Blue Valley

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FEBRUARY 2015 – In 38 years since the Blue Valley Soccer Club was founded, it has grown to become one of the most important youth soccer organizations in the region.

One of six Heartland Soccer Association member clubs, it grew to become an ideal place to find a variety of services for young soccer players.

A year after becoming an affiliate of Sporting KC, BVSC merged with KC Football Club to become Sporting Blue Valley.

“Sporting Blue Valley is the largest club in Kansas and KC, actually, one of the largest in the country,” said Heartland Soccer Executive Director Shane Hackett.

Said Sporting Blue Valley president Mark Christophel, “Any given season there are over 7,000 kids. Youth soccer) is doing so well and Shane is one of the reasons.  That’s why we like being involved with Heartland.”

Sporting Blue Valley boasts a robust recreational program for all ages and a strong competitive “premier” program, and part of the popularity comes from the inclusiveness of soccer.

Youth-soccer“One of the things I like to say is ‘we don’t have a right field’,” Christophel said. “Everybody gets to play and everybody gets to touch the ball all the time. No matter the position the ball is coming to you. You get out there and enjoy it.”

The sports’ popularity has led to programs starting as early as age three.

“It is amazing as young as it’s gotten,” Christophel said. “We had parents asking about it. The littler kids were watching so we decided, ‘let’s do something for that.’ I don’t necessarily think soccer is an easy sport but every kid can kick the ball.”

With soccer’s popularity, Sporting Blue Valley’s ranks have swelled.

“There are maybe 800 teams, from 6v6 up to 11v11,” Christophel said.  “It’s quite a production.  Realistically, we wouldn’t be able to make it without the help from volunteers and parents.”

The club does its part to help parents, putting strong emphasis on teaching the game and providing the equipment.

“We’ve tried to make it easy on the recreational parent,” Christophel said. “We have a book that we’ve put together that will take a kid all the way from Kindergarten to sixth grade, laying out each practice. Several hundred practices are laid out with pictures and easily readable guides, and we supply them with all the equipment, cones, balls, and pennies, all so the kids can enjoy the game of soccer.”

That soccer enjoyment extends beyond the budding young soccer stars, too.  In 2013, the club helped launch TEAMSoccer, a program aimed at delivering soccer fun to children with physical or mental disabilities.

“TEAMSoccer is basically a program that Tom Gorczyca started with Mike Eagan, Tom’s running friend,” said Sporting Blue Valley marketing administrator Paula Bullis. “Tom’s grandson has special needs and is in a soccer program in St. Louis. He came to Blue Valley and thought it would be awesome to have a program like it in KC. He brought the program to us.”

The program started with 25 kids in the fall of 2013.

“We started small to get a handle on what the needs of the kids were going to be and how we could accommodate them,” said Sporting Blue Valley additional programs administrator Shannon Johnson. “The limiting factor for us is it takes an enormous number of volunteers. We need about two volunteers to each kid. Some (kids) don’t require 1-on-1 volunteers, but some require two or three. We want to be overstaffed from a volunteer standpoint. We made a choice as a club to start slow.”

Said Bullis, “We started small because we wanted to be able to do the program right. The limiting factor for us is it takes an enormous number of volunteers.  There need to be adults for the kids, mentors.”

A child in TEAMSoccer will be assigned a mentor who will guide the child during the six-week program which operates during both the fall and spring soccer seasons. The kids are divided into four groups, each with an adult leader who has soccer experience or education experience, such as Carah Berry, a teacher at the Kansas School for the Deaf in Olathe who has special education experience and is also a soccer coach.

The weekly sessions take place on Field 1 at Overland Park Soccer Club, which has a turf field to better accommodate kids who need a walker or a wheelchair, and has easier access to restrooms and the parking lot.

TEAMSoccer was immediately popular.

“Our registration opened and closed the same day,” remembered Bullis. “There was definitely a need.”

“The program was a hit,” said Johnson, who highlighted the importance of having TEAMSoccer kids play alongside recreational Sporting Blue Valley games. “We feel that it’s very important for the kids to feel like they are included. They are going to the same place, to the same fields, wearing the same uniforms. They see the kids walking with their soccer balls. We really strive to make it as inclusive as possible.”

The program has brought joy to everyone involved.

“I don’t know who has more fun, the players or the volunteers,” Christophel said.  “We wanted to help kids participate.  They’ve been watching on the sidelines as their sisters or brothers play and they want to get out and play the game, too.  They just want to be out on the field.”

“We love TEAMSoccer,” said Jill Bostel, whose daughter Lexi, age 8, is a happy TEAMSoccer player. “The overall program is very well organized and this leads to their great success. The staff and volunteers/mentors are passionate about soccer. The mentors are always kind, helpful and go above and beyond to make my daughter’s experience fun and memorable. Lexi is always so excited to attend and proud to wear her soccer jersey.”

The program has grown to 40 participants, with many participants returning from previous sessions.  TEAMSoccer maintains a waiting list, but doesn’t want to over expand and dilute the experience, and they are also limited due to the number of volunteers who sign up.

“We get a lot of kids from St. Thomas Aquinas and other high schools to sign up, or entire teams,” Bullis said. “What we’re looking for are enthusiastic people who can help the kids enjoy the game of soccer.”

“A lot of the volunteers are students and a lot are repeats,” said Johnson, who invites prospective volunteers to join the fun by following the TEAMSoccer link on the Sporting Blue Valley website:  www.sportingbvsoccer.org

Sporting Blue Valley also supports other youth soccer programs and is instrumental in soccer instruction, beginning with the YoungSTARS program which holds weekly classes for preschoolers at the Tomahawk Ridge Community Center.

The Skills Club helps kids 4-to-12 improve important soccer skills in dribbling, passing and receiving, juggling, shooting and controlling.  The seven-week programs take place during the spring and fall soccer seasons.

Goaltenders can gain crucial advantage through several different goalkeeping skills programs offered.

Training young soccer players is a key goal for Sporting Blue Valley and their association with Sporting KC is vital to their success.

“They do a lot of coaching clinics,” Christophel said. “They’re behind the scenes, putting on training programs. It’s also direct-linked to the academy. Sporting KC, like most MLS teams, has a youth academy.  For the kids that don’t make the team, they’re suggested to go to Sporting Blue Valley because that’s the first spot they go to fill openings. It’s the next step below academy teams.”

Sporting KC is also directly involved with the Sporting Blue Valley players.

“We have players come out from Sporting KC numerous times,” Christophel said. “The whole club gets to do that, not just the premier side, everybody in Sporting Blue Valley gets to meet the Sporting KC players. They seem to love it, especially since the club has done so well. They have a close and personal interaction. It’s an organization that rewards local support.”

With programs for every soccer kid, a strong training program, and a solid relationship with Sporting KC, Christophel believes Sporting Blue Valley can continue their outstanding soccer tradition for another 38 years.

“We’re very proud of the quality of our product, and the name on our jersey,” he said.

Article by Marc Bowman

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