Archive for Thursday, June 15, 2006

Soccer nation?

The world’s most popular sport is spreading across the U.S. and Eudora

June 15, 2006

Every four years the world stops.

Shops close, people of all occupations find excuses to get themselves out of work and national pride swells to new levels.

It is the World Cup, the planet's largest and most celebrated sporting event and in the years ending in zero, four and eight it devours the world's attention.

Here in Eudora, as well as many parts of the America, things are just a touch quieter.

Soccer still struggles to find a foothold in the folds of American life, but for the past few years, things have started to change.

In 2002, a group of parents approached the Eudora school board and asked for a soccer team to be added to the school's list of sports.

As with many who love the sport or wish to see their kids succeed, there was a lot of passion involved.

"They came to the school board and asked to get a team started," Activities director Dave Durkin said. "It was something they spoke about with their hearts and the school board responded with their hearts and we got a team together."

At the time of the program's approval, the Eudora soccer team was the only one among the schools which make up the Frontier League.

Eudora's fledgling team seemed to mirror the sport's lack of popularity as it struggled to find games to play.

In its first year the team played all seven of its games on the road and played in places as far away as Columbus and Pittsburg.

"Those are some lengthy drives for games," Durkin said. "But we had a lot of kids come out for the program and they worked hard and love what they do just like everybody in every sport."

The program has grown over the last four year's and now regularly competes in the Frontier League and with closer teams who have adopted the sport.

But even as the inception of the organized team has helped get the game off the ground in the area, as a sport it still needs all the help it can get to draw new faces and fresh legs.

In many countries around the world the key to soccer's success and popularity lie in its growth at the grass roots level, where children grab a ball at very early ages and begin to play, hoping to someday step onto the world stage.

Here in the America's rural corners, things aren't quite as simple, as the kids of the country are besieged by a legion of other sports to occupy them.

Sports such as football, basketball and baseball all vie for the attention of many kids and their parents.

For many people in the area who enjoy the sport, the world of soccer on the national or international stage can have some impact on the way it grows here at home.

The United States' run to the quarterfinals of the Cup in 2002 had some reverberations throughout the areas where has soccer struggled, and for Eudora residents such as Paul Thevarajoo, who has recently begun organizing pickup games at Eudora High School with some positive turnout, the national success can have some positive effects for the sport.

"I think the success of the United States in the last cup was beneficial," Thevarajoo said. "The climate is to get things started at the grass roots level and show them the sport. And when people saw the team do well, they got behind it."

Unfortunately, the team's tepid performance on Monday can just as easily dissuade the fringe fan from getting into the sport.

"The performance was definitely discouraging," Thevarajoo said. "It might say to those people who are not familiar with the sport that our team isn't very good so why should we care."

International performances aside, soccer has gotten itself a foothold here in the local fields of Eudora with a number of kids who love the game and for the parents who love to watch their children be happy.

And perhaps regardless of how the American team performs this year, the sport looks to continue to grow throughout the area through established programs and the grass roots pipelines that may be established, which may increase the ability of the high school's team to branch out with the rest of the area schools.

"There are a lot of kids coming out for the sport," Durkin said. "I wouldn't be surprised if

in the next couple of years we have enough kids to split the teams in to a varsity girls and varsity boys team."

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