Overseeing a youth soccer organization is certainly a large undertaking. Overseeing one that often houses the largest number of participants in the Greater City of Sudbury can make for an even more imposing challenge.
With all of this in mind, it’s small wonder that a few years back, the Valley East Soccer Club opted to focus all of their efforts on the kids, looking to free themselves of the responsibilities of also dealing with a “young adults co-ed division”.
As anyone who has ever tackled the administration of adult sports knows all too well, the hurdles and issues that one must overcome to ensure smooth sailing in these waters is often a dramatically different landscape than the minefield that is presented when running youth sports.
Enter the Sudbury District Sports Club, already well established in the area with a long-time affiliation with futsal. True, the name may have changed over time, but the faces heading up the organization have remained quite constant in recent history.
“There were a lot of changes made when we inherited it from the Valley,” noted league organizer Jim Cress. “The one real limiting factor with the Valley was the fact that all games were played at the fields in the Valley, which didn’t really open it up as much to players from the city.”
In the summer of 2015, when the SDSC took over the loop, they toed the line, hosting their entire schedule at the Howard Armstrong Sports Complex, with eight competing teams. Listening to their membership, the group opted to move towards a mix of games spread out between the initial location and the James Jerome Sports Complex, with league entries remaining more or less level.
Not the case for 2017, as the group enjoyed an incredible explosion of interest, welcoming a total of 16 squads to the fold this summer. “We’re drawing a lot of younger players from 17 to 20, and a lot of players from twenty to thirty,” stated Cress.
“A lot of these players are in their mid-twenties, starting families, bringing along their spouses or girlfriends,” he added. “It’s a lot lower key than competitive. It’s a very good atmosphere to bring your girlfriend and have an evening of fun. And we added playoffs and an end of year tournament.”
In fact, in 2016, the bragging rights in the league would be split three ways, not bad for a total grouping of just eight teams, as the league champions, tournament champions and playoff champions were three completely different squads.
The SDSC has looked to approach the venture with a degree of flexibility, seeking to accommodate all-comers, as long as reasonable competitive balance can be maintained. This summer, once again, the league is home to Notre-Dame United, a team built around the core of soccer talent that would have suited up over the course of the past three months as members of the College Notre-Dame Alouettes boys soccer team.
“It’s basically our current soccer team at our school and a few good friends who also play soccer,” said 17 year old Philippe Larochelle, the youngest of three boys in a very athletic family. “This is a great league. We really like playing against the adults – they’re very respectful.”
Understandably, that same approach is critical on both sides of the pitch, perhaps even moreso when dealing with a boys only team of testosterone-laden teenagers. “Playing against the adults really motivates us, helps us to compete at their level and to improve as a team, and improve as individuals,” Larochelle continued.
“But this is more relaxed. This is more fun, a little bit less competitive atmosphere.” Because it is a males only team at the moment – Larochelle noted that there has been some talk of incorporating female additions to the roster next year – Notre Dame United will take to the field with only nine players, conceding an extra two opponents to their adversaries who typically feature a lineup of nine men and two women.
In the meantime, Cress and company are looking ahead for the next phase in this development, with Sudbury adult soccer talent searching ways to extend their season beyond simply a handful of months in the summer.
“We grew from eight teams to nine teams last summer, and that transitioned to the futsal league,” said Cress. “We haven’t had to turn athletes away, which our club never likes to do. We started a separate seven v seven league running from September 1st to November. We play crossways and we play twice a week. They just wanted to keep playing.”
Speaking of which, the sister youth competitive soccer organization will be staging a huge homestand on the weekend of June 24th and 25th. The Sudbury District Soccer Club U16 boys are in Collingwood this weekend for a pair of games, while the U18 boys are on the road facing Aurora and Markham (both girls teams are off).
But in one week’s time, all four of the teams are in Sudbury, over the same two day stretch, welcoming opponents from across the province to northern Ontario. Times and locations will be publicized next week.