Shifting soccer landscape in Chilton County

The World Cup has captured the attention of the entire world and will do so for the next couple of weeks.

In Chilton County, soccer has been on a continual growth path for the past several years.

Soccer has been promoted at the YMCA of Chilton County and has seemingly been embraced by the county’s youth and their families.

Like most sports, it helps develop children with hand-eye coordination and the social skills required to be part of a team.

Josh Elmore got involved with the YMCA in 2012 and has been a major organizer of the leagues and programs that the have been held at the facility.

“That was when my son became old enough to start playing,” Elmore said.

According to Elmore, at the time the YMCA had its league that was traditionally played in the spring. However, much of the leagues throughout the country were played in both fall and spring.

“We had an interest from some kids who wanted to play again in the fall, so we reached out to Wetumpka and several other communities that had a program,” Elmore said.

That is how the YMCA developed its partnership with the American Youth Soccer Organization in about 2014.

The AYSO is one of several soccer organizations that exist in the United States.

“Ever since then we have continued to play inter-regionally with Clanton, Wetumpka and Montgomery,” Elmore said.

The YMCA sent its first tournament team in 2016 to compete in Huntsville against opponents from Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

“It was really eye opening, not only for the kids, but also for the parents to see what all is out there,” Elmore said.

With each year that passes, it appears that more children are gravitating to soccer when choosing a sport to get involved with.

“We’re fortunate that we’ve got a good program base, and we’re looking to see how it continues to grow,” Elmore said. “We’ve increased every season since 2012.”

The most recent spring season that ended in May included the most player participation that the league ever had.

The 163 players were broken up into one 14U team, four 12U teams, four 10U teams, six 8U teams and five 6U teams.

A soccer team is given instruction following a game during the YMCA’s spring league. (Photo by Anthony Richards)

Chilton County also worked with Wetumpka to form the league’s first girls only program.

The girls’ squad is a direct result of the increased numbers of girls coming out and wanting to learn the game of soccer.

“To go from not having those numbers, to seeing it grow has been really positive,” Elmore said.

The future plans of soccer in the county are branching out beyond the fields of the YMCA, as there has been a push to get the game reintroduced at the school level.

According to Tal Morrison, Chilton County High School athletic director, the current plan is to have varsity boys and girls soccer teams competing in the spring of 2019.

Beginning in 2020, the middle school will have a co-ed soccer team to go with the programs at the high school.

“I want kids to be involved outside as well as inside the classroom, and well-rounded in several sports,” Morrison said.

The establishment of soccer at the youth level has made the decision to introduce the game in the schools a fairly easy one.

Morrison would also like to add wrestling to the athletic department in the years to come, but soccer has more of a foundation among the youth in the county than wrestling at this point.

CCHS is in the process of finding a coach, but believes that the transition should be aided by the strength of the youth programs.

“For our club program, we’re at a point where growth is our main goal,” Elmore said. “With that comes the challenge of continuing to recruit volunteers, coaches and referees.”

The YMCA just wrapped up its fourth annual summer camp in partnership with U.K. International, which brings in coaches from Europe to teach the game.

“It’s all centered around the kids enjoying and learning the game,” Elmore said. “Even if they don’t play later on in life, they’ve been exposed to it and can still become a fan.”

For those players that cannot get enough of their soccer fix, there is something to choose from no matter what season it is.

“We offer something throughout the year,” Elmore said.

At the moment there were a large amount of 6U and 8U teams that took part in the spring league. The goal of the club is to maintain the interest of those children so that the result will eventually be more 14U teams to compete.

According to Elmore, players who maintain a place in the club will have the opportunity to continue building onto the fundamentals that they were taught early on for a progression into the sport.

Chilton County continues to embrace the game of soccer, and it continues to grow at all levels. One can only imagine what the future will hold four years from now when the 2022 World Cup rolls around.

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