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Walden Soccer continues to strike a balance

This past May, on the 23rd to be specific, the Walden Minor Soccer Association started up another season of recreational soccer. The sport, in Walden, has provided countless benefits for youngsters just learning the game, or those older players looking to play the sport competitively one day, according to President Bruce Pollard.

“We want the kids to enjoy it, and come back again,” said Pollard, who is also coaching one of the Under-18 teams. “We have a good reputation as a well-run recreational league with the emphasis on having fun.” The league will hold 47 teams this year, and there has been an increase in players as well, with 770 involved ranging from ages as young as three or four all topping out at eighteen years of age.

“For most here, it’s their first exposure to soccer,” said Pollard. “More kids are getting involved, three or four year olds are playing with their sibling, which great to see. I’m glad we’ve been able to keep the cost down, and keep it fun for the kids,” he continued. “It’s nice to see some of the older kids still wanting to play soccer. It bodes well for the future that a third of our league are players in the Under-6 division.”

The league saw 60 more people in 2006 than in the previous year, and the numbers are steadily growing. With the under-6 division full to capacity with 16 teams involved, Pollard is feeling good about the co-ed league’s role in the eyes of the community.

The league, as with any other, does encounter adversity from time to time. At the moment, with the league still being uncompetitive, a main challenge is getting volunteers to coach the teams. “It’s always a challenge getting volunteers because it’s a fair commitment,” said Pollard. There are 12 executive volunteers, including Pollard himself, and after seven years, he says he may vacate his position by January 2008.

Despite that, he says, the city has been great to the league, and the amount of players every year keeps the league running strong. “We’re very fortunate to have a good relationship with the city,” he said. The 47 teams will have the privilege of competing on their own fields, due to that relationship. Fields at Hillcrest, Lively High School, Naughton Community Centre and R.H. Murray School in Whitefish will be used this year, every Monday to Thursday from 6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. throughout the summer.

As for whether the league will ever be truly competitive, Pollard has a yes and no answer. “It could be, we’ve had a few competitive teams in the past,” he said. “The two under-18 teams are competing in a league with Rayside Balfour, we have one team, the Italia Walden Flyers, who are competitive.”

However, due to revenue and the infrastructure present in the league, Pollard concedes that they are unable to run a competitive league at this time. Even so, people involved, and not just the players, do their best to keep the WMSA on the radar.

“I like the idea of us acting as a stepping stone for players,” Pollard exclaimed. “Personally, I would like every child who plays soccer in our league to have a positive experience. If a young person is interested in playing at a higher level and committed to developing their skills, I encourage them to do so.”

The playoffs begin on August 18th. After round robins in five divisions (Under-6, Under-8, Under-10, Under-12 and Under-15) are complete, the league is limited to four teams in each division who play in the post-season. Each division crowns a champion. Last year, winners included Tim Horton’s Gold, CTS College, TD Waterhouse, Little Pizza Shop, and Just Soccer.

There’s also a get-together on the last day, which he says goes over big with the kids. “For those not in the finals, they really enjoy being able to be together as a team, and enjoy themselves.” Pollard is expecting new blood to arrive soon, with a few executive volunteers, himself included, leaving their positions.

He hopes to keep the same mission statement of the league however, which is to keep the league low-cost, and maintain its reputation as a fun recreational sport for the younger kids. Anyone interested in taking on roles in the league as volunteers can call Pollard at 564-7520. You don’t have to be over qualified, and he notes parents who want to fill the roles would be welcome, giving them a chance to continue watching their children enjoy a friendly game of soccer.

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