June 02, 2014
West Chicago: Youth soccer is not without its little ironies. In 2013, American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) Region 184, centered in West Chicago, celebrated its 35th anniversary. In 2014 AYSO celebrates its 50th anniversary. Also in 2014, the AYSO region that serves western DuPage County may close its doors forever.
"We're a victim of our own success," stated Pedro Porcayo, the retiring regional commissioner. When the region started, it was one of a very few youth soccer outlets in this area. Now there are dozens of traveling soccer clubs, and many of the neighboring park districts have their own recreational leagues. West Chicago is not among them.
Many of the children who would have over-filled the region's rosters in years past now participate in a league in their own park districts, sign up for one of the travel clubs, or enroll in one of the for-profit programs that dot the area.
But "that's not the main problem," explained Tom Solon, who is currently a member of the regional governing board, and is a former regional commissioner for Region 184. "AYSO is an all-volunteer organization. Our biggest problem is that we cannot get the parents to help run their own soccer league."
"When I signed up my sons for AYSO 18 years ago, it didn't even occur to me that I would not help out. Drive-by, drop-off parenting wasn't part of main-stream culture yet." All of Mr. Solon's children are now too old for the program. The same is true of Mr. Porcayo, and the majority of the region's board. "We stay because we care about the kids and the community," said Jorge Rodriguez, the regional safety director, who is among that majority.
"[If this region is going to survive,] we need ten dedicated parents to start with," explained Mr. Porcayo. "We need fresh energy [on the Regional Board] so we can start rebuilding." He explained that too much of the administrative work is being done by too few volunteers. These few volunteers are burning out and are unwilling, or in some cases literally unable, to continue with the status quo.
"The children [who want to play soccer] are still out there," Mr. Solon added, "but without the [administrative] volunteers, we just can't reach them." Mr. Rodriguez concurs: "I used to get two or three post cards every season reminding me to sign up my kids. We haven't sent any out in years." There is no one to do the work, and not enough money with which to do it.
"We can get financial help from the Area, Section, and National organization," said Mr. Solon, who is also a member of the AYSO Area 6C staff. Area 6C provides training and administrative support for western DuPage and northern Will County regions within AYSO. Like all of the AYSO governing bodies, it is made up entirely of volunteers. "Money alone can't solve the problem -- it couldn't hurt -- but without the volunteers to put it to good use… what's the point?" asked Mr. Solon.
Rec leagues face a challenge that travel teams don't have according to Mr. Porcayo. A travel club only needs to fill one team roster, and recruit one team coach, and one assistant coach. Then they pay a huge fee to the travel league, which schedules them for games, pays referees, and takes care of most of the rest of the "behind the scenes" work. By contrast, rec leagues need to fill at least four team rosters -- in each age group -- recruit coaches, referees, do their own scheduling, and handle the administrative work of all those teams.
For parents who can afford it, paying the high travel soccer fees will always be an option. Unfortunately for those who cannot, the last, best hope, and the longest surviving local league until now, stands on the brink of extinction.
AYSO was founded in California in 1964. By 1978, it had spread to the Chicago area seeing two new regions form: Region 183 in the Peterson Park neighborhood of Chicago, and Region 184 in West Chicago. These two regions, tied as the 183rd local soccer league within AYSO, are now part of an organization that has over 1000 active regions (local leagues).
More information about AYSO Region 184 can be found on their website at WeGoAYSO.org. To volunteer or request more information visit the website, or call 630-686-0027. For more information about the national AYSO program, or to find a region near you, visit AYSO.org or call the national office at 800-USA-AYSO (800-872-2976).
The American Youth Soccer Organization is the largest single-entity youth soccer association in the U.S. with over 600,000 registered players and 225,000 volunteers. AYSO develops and delivers quality youth soccer programs in a fun, safe environment based on the 6 Philosophies of Everyone Plays, Balanced Teams, Open Registration, Positive Coaching, Good Sportsmanship and Player Development. To learn more about AYSO and how you can become a part of AYSO, contact (800)USA-AYSO or visit www.ayso.org.