The sun is out and directly in your line of vision as you drive East. You feel the familiar rumble of gravel under your tires as you turn into the parking lot amid slow, yet heavy, traffic. You park the car, pop the trunk and grab your folding chair, along with children and equipment. Children and parents alike dart across the parking lot towards the field, each in their designated uniform. Flip flops and a hoodie for spectators, cleats, shin guards, shorts and jerseys for players. You plop your belongings down in the grass, unfold your chair and take your position in the line of blankets, folding chairs, strollers and the occasional tent. Let the kicking and yelling begin.
It’s soccer season, and this is the St. Joseph Youth Soccer Association experience. For many families, the soccer fields are a touchstone in the community. It is where parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends gather to support children for the majority of their childhoods. A soccer game may be the only time you see your own siblings or parents that week. You all come together with a common goal — to cheer on your favorite kid(s). You share the family gossip, play with babies, scream, snack, sip, clap, comfort injuries, make new friends, provide sports commentary and dole out as many hugs as you can before you need to leave.
The sense of community is strong at the soccer fields. As you spend more time there, you might recognize a familiar face there every week. St. Joseph Youth Soccer Association President Alan Stolfus has been involved since his now-grown children were playing. He said, “I got my start when my son and my daughters played. As I learned about soccer, I just kind of fell in love. It was new to me, and it was wonderful.” He went on to say, “The interesting thing about our board is up until last summer, we only had one board member who had a kid playing soccer. The rest of us had aged out.” He hopes the new members will be the leaders who take the association into the future.
“It is a family experience. It’s a fun atmosphere. You’re outside. It is just a beautiful place to be out there amongst the green grass and blue skies,” Stolfus said. This atmosphere of fun, sun and support contributes to the enrollment of around 1,000 children each year. The desire to maintain this experience led to a five-year improvement project, including expanding the fields, new goals, underground drainage and a sprinkler system.
Stolfus said, “The people are just great. Everybody cares about the youth. We just want to take care of the kids.” The pride for family and community is palpable at the soccer fields. The stifled grin or huge jump of a child who scores their first point, the calamity of every player on the field crowding around a ball nobody can quite seem to kick, the elation when one kid is able to break free from that same crowd and take the ball all the way down the field, the incredible save the goalkeeper makes as they dive to the ground — all of this feels exciting but familiar.
Some spend so much time at the soccer fields, they may even say it feels like home. On those days, even the least sports-inclined individual can see the appeal of a team sport. There is joyous life at the soccer fields.