Let the Games Begin
One Team’s Journey to the National Games
(Youth1) - When the news came, it was the type of good news Brian Hafter had been hoping to hear for some time. His U-14 girls soccer team - the Bruno Dynamite - was selected to represent Region 249 of San Bruno, Calif. in the AYSO National Games in Knoxville, Tenn., July 1-8.
It was a goal of Hafter and Jim Estelita, co-coaches of the Dynamite, and the rest of the team members who hail from a town of 41,000 in the San Francisco Bay Area, to be selected to the bi-annual event. But because the 240 teams selected for the National Games are determined by a lottery system, it was one goal they knew they had no control over.
The American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) was founded in 1964 and has grown into one of the largest youth soccer organizations in the United States. The mission of AYSO is to develop and deliver quality youth soccer programs which promote a fun, family environment based on AYSO's Six Philosophies:
- Everyone Plays®
- Balanced Teams
- Open Registration
- Positive Coaching
- Good Sportsmanship
- Player Development
Getting a chance to participate in the week-long National Games is the ultimate experience for AYSO teams and that's why Hafter is excited.
"This is a great group of girls," said Hafter. "Many of these girls started playing in San Bruno AYSO since the age of five. To be selected for this opportunity is very exciting because this group of players and families is extremely close. The kids are absolutely wonderful and this is a great way to celebrate our commitment together."
Geoff Klein knows what it's like when a team gets selected for this event. He knows for the teams chosen, it will be the highlight of their season…and possibly of an AYSO player’s career. Klein is the AYSO National Games 2012 Lottery Coordinator. He's held many titles - such as AYSO Regional Commissioner and his Region’s Safety Director. He's also a former coach and a referee. His volunteer role as Lottery Coordinator keeps him busy. He received applications from about 1,650 teams from across the country. The teams selected come from a diverse group of the 14 different AYSO Sections across the country. He's always making phone calls, responding to emails and coordinating the process to get down to 264 teams.
"It's a commitment," says Klein. "But it's always nice to hear when teams are excited and looking forward to the event. There are some teams that are disappointed they aren't selected but this system has proven to be the best method to make sure we get a strong representation of teams from all of our Regions."
For Hafter, being selected has special meaning. On September 9, 2010, a natural gas pipeline owned by Pacific Gas & Electric exploded at 6:11 p.m. through a San Bruno neighborhood, killing seven, destroying about 35 houses and damaging many more. When this explosion happened, Hafter and his team were practicing, in a huddle, going over strategy for an upcoming game. Many residents thought the loud roar and shaking was an earthquake or jet explosion. The Dynamite was practicing less than a mile from the explosion and saw it all unfold. None of the family members of the team were hurt or perished in this tragedy, but it is something Hafter says will stick with the girls and team forever.
"These girls were too young to remember 9/11," says Hafter. "And while it's hard to say this tragedy compares to the horrible events of 9/11, this is the first time this group of girls ever experienced anything like this. When we applied to the National Games, we thought it would be a great thing for the city. When it was announced we were selected there was a lot of support in the city and I think, since that tragedy, the city has come closer together and this can help continue the support and recovery we are all dealing with."
While the timing was just right for the Dynamite, sometimes, it doesn't work out that way for other teams. Klein says not every Region selected accepts the bid. They may have a previous commitment that week, might not be able to travel or just have some reason why it can't work out. For some, they know right away if their team can attend, while others must go back to their local board before making a decision. It is a big commitment and Klein understands that.
"Every team has their reasons and that's understandable," says Klein. "We certainly know that going into the lottery process. So, we know this is going to be a long process and take time. But it's still exciting for many, many teams to be selected."
Like the San Bruno Dynamite.
"It's exciting," said Hafter. "We've kind of been the talk of the town since the announcement. We're looking forward to taking our game to the national stage and competing against teams from Hawaii, Chicago, Florida or wherever they may be from. That's what's so exciting, to go together as a team and compete against those from throughout the United States. We're excited."
The AYSO National Games have been played since 1988, with the first event held in Irvine, CA. Since then the bi-annual event has been held in locations throughout California and in Michigan, Hawaii, New Mexico, New York, Chicago, Florida and now this year, Tennessee. The event will include 3,300 players and 264 boys and girls teams from U-10 through U-19 as well as a VIP competition for children and adults with physical or mental disabilities.
As the AYSO motto goes - Let the Games Begin!
By Matt Krumrie Youth1.com
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