47 Seasons and Counting...
AYSO: A Celebrated Family Tradition
By Melissa Bean Sterzick
Jerry Anderson (top row, second from right) on his AYSO team
The soundtrack of every AYSO soccer field is the sharpness of whistles, coaches shouting directions and bystanders cheering and clapping. Brightly colored jerseys bob and weave, and flags and banners whip in the wind. The fields smell of wet grass, smoke from the hot dog stand and a hint of sweat and oranges. The feeling, especially for players, is all highs and lows—a constant rotation of exhilaration, defeat, determination, fulfillment, frustration and joy.
From 1964 to 2011, the sights and sounds have been the same, and AYSO has offered all of its athletes the thrill of a game played by millions around the world, the chance to be part of something larger than themselves and the opportunity to learn fundamental lessons of life on the field instead of on the street.
And during those 47 years, AYSO has become a tradition celebrated by generations.
AYSO’s earliest volunteers are now watching their grandchildren play. Its original team members are coaching their own children. The group of nine teams that first dribbled under the AYSO name in 1964 has grown into 50,000 teams, many of them made up of children whose parents played on the same fields before them.
Growing up AYSO
Marine Cano caught his first glimpse of soccer when he was 9 years old. It was 1964, and he saw a group of men playing a strange game on the fields of the middle school near his home. A few days later, his mom asked him if he wanted to play soccer. He said no way, but when he found out all of his friends would be playing, he changed his mind. That decision shaped his life and the lives of his three children.
Cano was on one of those original nine teams during the debut season of AYSO. He went on to play soccer in high school, and in college at Cal State Dominguez Hills, and was the first AYSO athlete to play professional soccer, joining the American Soccer League Los Angeles Skyhawks in 1976. Cano now coaches college soccer at Soka University in Southern California and runs youth soccer camps.
Jerry’s daughter, Rachel, playing soccer.
“I believe youth soccer is the foundation for life. It teaches you discipline—be at practice on time. It teaches character—never give up. And it teaches you to always do your best,” Cano says. “I tell my college teams you never fail as long as you try to do your best, and that will carry over into life.”
Cano says soccer gave him a strong start in life and he passed that advantage to his children, all raised the AYSO way.
“My kids have been around the game since they were babies in strollers. Everything they got for Christmas and their birthdays was soccer,” he says. “I really believe that soccer is a great way to keep them mentally and physically healthy. And it keeps them on the straight and narrow.
“I’d love to say it’s all me and my wife, but it’s also soccer.”
In 1982, Amanda Goldstein was a fourth grader playing her first game with AYSO. This year, her 7-year-old son Connor will enjoy his fourth season in AYSO Region 12 in South Torrance, Calif.
“I signed him up for soccer because he is an extremely active and athletic kid. He wants nothing more than to play with a ball,” Goldstein says. “I wanted him to have the experience of being in a fun and competitive team-sports atmosphere.”
For Goldstein’s father, Arlo Sorensen, watching his grandson play is like seeing his daughter on the field all over again.
“She was just a little dynamo. Always running, always going,” he says. “Connor is incredible—just like Mandy, just a little fireball.”
Sorensen coached AYSO and says during the early years the organization was unique because most of the adults involved were learning the game with their children.
“I’d never even played soccer before and most of the parents had never played before either,” he said. “You’d watch it and go out and try to teach them what you’d seen. At the end of the season, the fathers went out to play the children and the kids would win because we had never actually played the game.”
Sorensen is happy his daughter has passed along her love of soccer to her son.
“It’s a tremendous tradition. It’s hard to imagine pro soccer is not more popular in the United States than it is with all the kids playing and all the enjoyment they get out of it. It’s phenomenal,” he says.
Goldstein remembers her own excitement and determination playing soccer. Her most thrilling moment in AYSO was the last game of a losing season, played against the undefeated team of her division.
“Everyone on our team knew that their coach had said if they were undefeated the entire season, he’d pay for all of them to go to Magic Mountain. So, not only did we not want to lose our last game, but we also really didn't want them to go to Magic Mountain,” Goldstein recalls. “It was one of those epic games—as epic as a game with 11 year olds can be—but we beat them 5-3.”
Now her son is playing AYSO with epic enthusiasm and the legacy continues.
“The best part of watching Connor play is seeing the joy on his face during the game. On game day, he puts on his uniform as soon as he gets up and paces the house until it's time to go,” she says.
|AYSO Accounting Manager, Michelle Yapelli, posing in her AYSO jersey for her U-14 team, the Izods in 1981. ||Michelle’s son, Justin, in his AYSO jersey. |
Spending Saturdays with his parents is Jerry Anderson’s best memory from his eight years of playing in AYSO.
“They always came to games,” he says. “It's important that the whole family supports the player by going to the games and cheering them on.”
Today, Anderson’s daughter Rachel has played two seasons in Region 671 in Edgewood, N.M., and he expects his 2-year-old son Tom will be ready to go when the time comes. “He loves kicking soccer balls around and tries to join in Rachel's games,” Anderson says.
Anderson’s coaches inspired him with a thorough education in the fundamentals of the game, and a positive approach to soccer and life. (A desire to give his daughter, Rachel, the same opportunity that he had to gain confidence and learn teamwork is what motivated Anderson to introduce Rachel to AYSO.)
“I signed her up because I enjoyed playing soccer as a child, and as a family we like soccer. I remember the day she finally got the concept of going after the ball instead of waiting for the ball to come to her and then politely waiting for the other players to stop kicking the ball. When that happened, Rachel was more assertive. Afterwards, Rachel told us that this game was ‘more fun.’”
Winning isn’t Everything – the Game is Everything
Dick Wilson started volunteering with AYSO in 1967. He went on to be a Regional Commissioner, and later the National Executive Director of AYSO’s National Support & Training Center.
As Executive Director, Wilson said he fielded a variety of complaints about the program from parents and volunteers. One of the most unforgettable calls was one that drove home the importance of the AYSO experience. Wilson played a part in creating AYSO’s VIP (Very Important Player) program that puts together teams for players with disabilities. When one parent called to tell him what she thought of the program, he was ready for the worst.
“This mother called me—she said, ‘Mr. Wilson, I’ve got to talk to you’ and I thought ‘Oh, boy, here it comes.’ So she says, ‘We have a son who is autistic. We have two other children playing and my husband has coached them. We’ve tried to make our son a part of everything, even though he couldn’t play, and then you started this program,’” Wilson recounts.
“Then she said, ‘I just took him to pick up his uniform and we got in the car and he held it to his chest and he didn’t say a word. He’s usually very talkative. Well, we got home and he went running in the house screaming ‘Dad, Dad, I’m a real kid now.’’”
Over the years, Wilson has taken in the sights and sounds of the game by watching his children and grandchildren play as often as possible. His wife was an active volunteer, and his four children all played AYSO. Today, his children are grown and their children are playing soccer in AYSO. Wilson credits AYSO with helping him and his wife create a close-knit family and raise their children to be capable adults. “I think it’s definitely a bonding experience. It’s something that we can talk about together and find memories in common. I know it has helped them become better adults, and better citizens,” he says.
And the icing on the cake is Wilson’s 2-year-old great-granddaughter is just a few seasons away from her first season.
“I’ll bet you in a couple of years she’ll be out there,” Wilson says. “Her parents will sign her up.”
AYSO has been around for 47 years and has become a household name , but it is so much more than just a soccer organization for the thousands of athletes and volunteers across the country. Today, AYSO is a family tradition.