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Longmont Local: Teaching life through soccer

Soccer is like life: unpredictable but beautiful

Since 1981, the nonprofit soccer program St. Vrain FC has encouraged Longmont-area youth to pursue sports. But for the coaches, soccer is a tool to teach sportsmanship and about life beyond the game.

The football club serves boys and girls ages four to 19 with club and competitive teams. Families who reside in the St. Vrain Valley School District, as well as  Berthoud participate in the program.

The mission of the organization is to help as many kids as possible play soccer, according to Mike Clayton, executive director of St. Vrain FC. 

St. Vrain FC dates back to 1981, when a group of parents wanted to give kids a place to play. At the time, it operated as St. Vrain Youth Soccer Association. 

Clayton describes himself as a “soccer nerd,” and has worked with St. Vrain FC for 13 years. For him, it’s all about sharing the sport that he’s loved since he was four-years-old.

“Soccer has always been my passion,” he said. “So the opportunity to provide an opportunity for a place for kids to play and the chance to pass on the passion for the game, I couldn't pass it up.”

Over the span of his involvement with the organization, Clayton has watched the organization grow from 500 to 2,000 soccer players. He added that what used to be zero competitive teams developed to nearly 40. St. Vrain FC has teams playing at the state and national level, Clayton said.

St. Vrain FC splits up teams by birth years, and has had four competitive teams graduate college. An accomplishment that strikes pride in Clayton is that it’s had several players make it onto college teams. About 40 kids have gone on to play at the collegiate level, with 20 being from the 2001-birth year girls team. 

Clayton said that a small percentage of high school students make it to the next level. According to the The National Collegiate Athletic Association, 5.6% of participants in high school soccer are competing on a NCAA division team.

Losing the spring 2020 season to the pandemic, luckily didn’t affect the most recent graduating class’s ability to be placed on college teams since many already committed. Clayton said a few boys and girls agreed to play at the collegiate level. But kids forgoing athletic gatherings was challenging since they couldn’t play with their friends, he added.

Clayton said St. Vrain FC’s goal is to support any youth athletes who want to play soccer to be able to participate. The nonprofit awards an average of $60,000 in scholarships. Players who qualify for their school’s free and reduced lunch program can receive financial assistance up to 80% of their athletic fees. The cost of the recreational program is about $110 a season, Clayton said. For competitive athletes, total fees fall in the range of $1,200 to $1,700 annually.

While there are about 35 coaches for the competitive teams, about 140 volunteer coaches lead recreational programs. Nari Nealy, joined the club as a player in 2014. Now 20-years-old, she returned as a coach.

“I’ve always really liked the environment,” Nealy said. “I remember when I started playing here I felt  super accepted into the community and everything, so I think it would be good to help other people that come in and feel that same way.”

When Nealy thinks about the community she valued as a player, she thinks about how her coaches supported her in the sport and in life. 

Clayton said that he sees soccer being like life: unpredictable but beautiful. He likes to tell his teams that like in sports, they will need to learn how to work with others and embrace improvisation. But overall, he wants them to not get caught up on winning or losing and enjoy the journey.

“I want the kids to understand that, yes, they are soccer players, but they bring so much value to life more so than just being a member of a team,” Clayton said.

For anyone wanting to try out for the Fall soccer teams, tryouts for the boys and girls teams, born in 2012 and 2013, are this week. Schedules for placements for other ages are posted on St. Vrain FC’s website.