June 15, 2010
Americans get a kick out of Soccer every Four Years Part II by David Weinberg
The South Jersey Soccer League, which has teams based in all southern New Jersey counties from Burlington to Cape May, features about 5,100 boys on 390 traveling teams this spring, and had 6,200 players on 477 traveling teams last fall. The sport is also incredibly popular on the recreational level. For example, Lower Township’s rec leagues have nearly 400 players in kindergarten through sixth grade on 28 coed teams in both the fall and spring.
Nationwide, soccer is the most popular and fastest-growing team sport among young athletes ages 5 to 19. In 1974, when soccer was still an oddity on the country’s sports landscape, U.S. Youth Soccer had 103,432 boys and girls registered. Last year, the organization had 3,094,868. “Soccer is one of the few organized sports that you can get into at an early age, and it’s also pretty inexpensive at the lower levels,” said Linwood resident Jerry Meister, whose sons Brad, 12, and Luke, 7, are soccer players in the Mainland United Soccer Association. “All you need is a pair of shorts, a T-shirt, shinguards and maybe some cleats and you’re in. Plus, soccer provides the opportunity for interaction among kids, which I think helps build character and sportsmanship.”
Soccer is just a part of Brad’s sports schedule. He plays it in the fall and spring, but also participates in basketball, street hockey, baseball, surfing and, his favorite sport, lacrosse. But when it comes time to watch sports on TV, soccer is well down on his list.
“I’ll watch soccer if there’s a championship game on or something, but mostly I like to watch the Phillies and the Yankees in baseball and the Eagles in football,” Brad Meister said. “But the one I really like to play and watch is lacrosse. It’s like soccer, hockey and football rolled into one.” The chances of Jerry Meister’s sons sticking with soccer through their high school years are not great. The popularity of the sport seems to decrease with age.
Some give up soccer because they are not good enough to play for their high school team. Those who join travel programs at a young age sometimes get burned out from the constant travel and pressure. Others simply give it up because they don’t think it’s as fun as some other sports.
“When’s the last time you heard of a high school holding a pep rally for their soccer team?” said Meister, a former high school and college basketball referee who teaches in the Egg Harbor Township school district. “Football and basketball are the popular sports to play at that level, particularly in this area. And I understand why. I go to Mainland (Regional High School) football games on Friday nights and it’s exciting and pretty awesome.”
Check back next week for the continuation of this great Soccer Article.