Volunteers, parents drive Sporting Lee’s Summit success

Sporting LS Volunteers

MARCH 2016 – For an organization to be successful, it must have dedicated people. Sporting Lee’s Summit, which can trace its success back to its foundational days and the leadership of early volunteers.

For Sporting Lee’s Summit it started almost fifty years ago when the city’s Parks Department wanted to begin offering recreational soccer.

“In 1970, John Wilbanks of the Parks Department asked me to help start a soccer program,” said John Fields, who had previously been coaching football and basketball.

He helped develop the first soccer program, and got his son, Greg, involved. While it wasn’t his primary focus, soccer soon became Fields’ obsession.

“Soccer was my second goal,” he said. “I loved them both, but I dropped football and saved soccer.”

Fields helped coach his son and later coached his grandson. He saw many of his players move on to play soccer in high school and college.

While it took a lot of effort to get the program started, Fields is impressed with the coaching and leadership in today’s Sporting LS.

“You did everything yourself,” he said of those first years and those who helped start the program. “There were four or five of us. John Grimes did a good job. Ian Smith was a really good coach and Leonard Fralick was, too. But, what (SLS) has done today just blows me away. They’ve got so many people that donate their time.”

Kent Randall began like many volunteer coaches, working with a few kids. But he quickly saw his role expand.

Banner Sporting Lee's Summit“I started coaching my stepson, I think it was spring of ’94,” he said. “When you put your kid into a sport, you worry about one kid. When I was a coach, I worried about 10 to 12 kids. It wasn’t long before I was a division rep, so I was worried about 20 teams, about 200 kids. Before long, I was elected president, in ’97. Now I’m worried about the soccer experience of 2,000 kids.”

The new responsibilities forced Randall to look at Lee’s Summit youth soccer in a whole new way.

“It really changed my perspective,” he said.   “Now I had to make sure a lot of coaches and parents had the same experience. One of the things I dwelled on was, ‘Was it good for the kids, are the kids having fun, are they learning anything, are we keeping them off the streets and is it safe for them?’ But it certainly wasn’t me by myself. Getting people on board was easier when you kept the vision in front of them. I was lucky in my tenure that we had a long-term vision.”

It took some time to make the vision work, but Randall’s perseverance paid off.

“We had quite a bit of turnover the first three years, but once we got past those first three years we had very little turnover,” he said. “I kept it simple: ‘This is just for fun; it’s not the World Cup.’   We seemed to avoid a lot of the little picky arguments.”

Randall also had some very capable assistance.

“Mike Carver was one of our VPs when I got started,” he said. “There were a lot of things that he did which were inspirations by example. The other one involved was Jay Dittman; his kids wanted to enjoy the game. Some of the things he told me as I was starting to take over really helped a lot.   He told me ‘you’re not going to please everybody’.”

The effort became Randall’s labor of love.

“It took time out of your workday and leisure time, but it was worth it,” he said. “They are still continuing to get better training materials for the coaches, and expanding to make Lee’s Summit a better hub for soccer.”

As the recreational side grew so did interest in competitive soccer, and current Sporting LS president Ron Cox helped grow that part of the organization.

“Nowadays, Ron has done a really great job,” Fields said. “Besides his own team, he’s built the competitive side.”

Said Randall, “(The success) really comes from Ron. “They’ve got a very good push to get indoor going as well.”

Parents have found the recreational soccer program helps improve socialization for their kids. Bri Collier, a former Lee’s Summit Soccer Association player, is now coaching her son Taten’s U6 team.

“I really like, especially now as a parent, that he’s playing on a team with boys he goes to school with,” Collier said. “He gets to build those friendships.”

Collier, who played at Lee’s Summit High School, is enjoying coaching much as she did playing.

“I love it,” she said. “I like the bond I get with all the boys. They’re a handful, but they’re fun. You never know what you’re going to get with them. They’re fun to watch, especially now that everything’s connecting together for them.”

The leadership shown by Cox and the organization’s nearly all-volunteer staff is critical to the positive experience for players, parents and coaches.

“Carli Good, my league rep, is really amazing at answering my questions,” Collier said. “Everybody there is very open at answering your questions.”

Said Fields, “They’re interested in the kids, whether it’s rec or competitive. They work at it. Lee’s Summit is the best place to play sports that I know of. I’m a firm believer in recreation and soccer’s the best.”

LSSA, which recently became Sporting Lee’s Summit, continues to grow and inspire new players and coaches. They serve more than 7,500 players.

“Taten’s really growing as a player,” said Collier, who is expecting a daughter this year. “I’ll definitely keep coaching the boys as long as I can. I will want to coach my daughter as well. I think it’s just a great way for your kids to find friends in the community. Our boys have all stayed together. We have the same main core of boys playing together.”

For more information about Sporting Lee’s Summit, visit www.sportingls.org, call 816-554-BALL (554-2255) or write to admin@sportingls.org.

Article by Marc Bowman

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