For children and teens, fall is the perfect time to get outdoors and get fit, and what better way to achieve that goal than by taking up the world’s most popular sport: soccer.
Driving around Queens on a fall Saturday or Sunday, it is impossible not to pass children playing this increasingly popular sport. The sound of youngsters shouting plays to their teammates is often drowned-out by the cheers and encouraging instructions shouted by enthusiastic parents.
Next time you find yourself walking by the bay at Little Bay Park, strolling through Fort Totten in Bayside or driving down 73rd Avenue, take a minute to watch and enjoy the team spirit and exhilaration young people derive from this sport.
Soccer’s appeal to Americans has increased in recent years, especially among school-age children, prompting the Department of Education to create a new program called CHAMPS to provide elementary school children with the chance to play soccer in a more relaxed, less competitive environment than varsity high school sports.
This is not the only option, however, and from the more relaxed local leagues for the very young to the more serious play of varsity high school soccer teams, youth sports organizations provide structured physical and social activities for the athletically inclined.
Queens children may not yet have the benefit of one of David Beckham’s Soccer Academies, but any child here with a hankering to dive for a ball or shoot for a goal can benefit from time on a soccer team.
One of the most established and successful teams is the Auburndale Soccer Club, headquartered at 33-31 Francis Lewis Blvd. in Bayside. A non-profit organization founded in 1969, it provides an opportunity for the youth of Queens to join a soccer organization as an alternative to “hanging out.”
With approximately 1,000 boys and girls ranging from six to 19 years of age, the club attracts children from all social, ethnic, economic and geographical groups in the borough to their 10-week programs.
The club attributes its success to its commitment to providing a positive environment for children while maintaining quality in coaching and all other aspects of the program.
A volunteer organization, much of the work is done by parents, making participation a family affair. Auburndale offers both an intramural and a travel program and operates year-round, giving a discount to children who enroll for a full year.
Other clubs with similar programs for children include the Bayside United Soccer Club (for children ages four to 10 years old), the Big Apple Youth Soccer League and the Woodhaven Soccer Club. The cost of uniforms and equipment is not usually included in the fees and most clubs require players to purchase soccer cleats, shin guards, a soccer ball, and a water bottle in addition to buying regulation uniforms.
Soccer programs at city schools provide all equipment and uniforms, which opens participation to a wider range of children. Every high school offers soccer and students can try out once the school year commences. The varsity competition has been going for many years and remains popular. Middle school children need to approach their gym teacher or principal to indicate their interest in the game. They will be directed to the new CHAMPS program.
CHAMPS stands for Cooperative Healthy Active Motivated Positive Students. It started as a pilot program in 40 schools four years ago. It is now in over 200 citywide schools.
Its 10-week soccer program is one of many fitness programs offered to middle schools throughout the city. Eighteen schools in Queens currently offer the soccer component, however middle school children in schools currently not in the program but wanting the chance to play soccer can approach their gym teacher or principal to be included.
This before- and after-school program is geared to developing fitness in students and giving them the opportunity to feed into varsity soccer at the high school level.
The Catholic school system runs several soccer leagues and most schools provide their students with the opportunity to try out for a team. Parochial schools don’t provide uniforms or equipment, so as with the leagues, parents will need to purchase them in addition to paying a fee to join.
Those interested in enrolling their children in soccer can contact the Auburndale Soccer Club at (718) 961-2582, or visit auburndalesoccerclub.org; the Bayside United Soccer Club at (718) 961-4311; the Big Apple Youth Soccer League at (718) 545-4125 or visit www.baysl.com: the Woodhaven Soccer Club at (718) 738-5134 or the Catholic Youth Organization at (718) 464-5645 or visit the organization’s Web site, www.ccbq.org/cyo.htm.