0930 Soccer column

A player blasts a corner kick in an Ithaca United Soccer Club match.

Like a moth to a flame…

When driving past Cass Park last weekend I saw soccer games in progress, and despite the fact that I had no “dog in the fight,” as the saying goes, and despite the fact that I am not really a soccer fan, this sports-starved fan just had to pull over and watch. 

The parking lot was packed. Two games were underway (complete with referees), and I saw that there were players ranging from teenagers to athletes well into their thirties. Dozens of other players awaited their turn to play, and I was truly impressed with the collective effort to distance and wear masks when sitting or standing in groups. It had a real “pre-COVID” vibe, and it was great to see so many athletes – especially the high school players – doing what they love to do, and to see many parents watching the games and embracing the beautiful, early fall day. It looked and felt like 2019 (and hopefully, like 2021).

Given that so many wore masks, it was difficult to recognize people, so I asked a parent in attendance if he knew who was running the show, so to speak. He pointed to a masked woman and said, “Maureen McCarvill’s here.” Of course she was. 

McCarvill is the girls’ soccer coach at Ithaca High School, and she is also heavily involved in youth soccer as one of the Directors of Coaching for the Ithaca United Soccer Club. That club is a co-ed adult league (featuring nine teams in three divisions – Co-ed, Open and Over 30), so when I caught up to her later I asked why so many young players were in attendance. I learned that young players born prior to 2005 have been included, and, in McCarvill’s words, “Ithaca United has been very welcoming, and I’m telling you, it’s the one thing keeping our older kids sane. We do emphasize health and safety first and soccer second, but these kids live and breathe the sport. It’s who they are.” 

I expressed my surprise that a local league would draw so many young people, and McCarvill clarified, saying “We are trying to provide a platform for local kids to play at a higher level, and an opportunity for some of them to be seen by college coaches.” By “we” she was referring to her longtime affiliation with Lamar Peters (with whom she has been working in Youth Soccer for 15 years) and Paul Marco (the coach at SUNY Binghamton and a Director of Coaching for TC United in the Binghamton area) and their effort to expand opportunities. She said, “We are serving thirteen counties, and our games draw players from Ithaca, Lansing, Trumansburg, Homer, Corning, Addison, Southern Cayuga, McGraw… The program is now very far-reaching.” 

While many of these players do travel an hour or so, many travel team parents from different sports are well aware that an hour is a short trip compared to many of the travel requirements out there. Some players need to go to Syracuse, Rochester or other distant points to see enough high-level competition to prepare them to play beyond high school, and McCarvill and her cohorts are working to change that. “We have a lot of local kids that are aspiring to be better players, to play in more challenging leagues, and we’re trying to offer that without leaving town. It’s great for the families too. The parents appreciate it.” 

While watching the games, I noticed that the players were clearly grateful to be out on the pitch, and to be with so many other kindred spirits. So much has changed in 2020, so many dimensions of our lives feel off-kilter. We have watched our kids (and ourselves) go stir-crazy, and any normalcy is welcome. In McCarvill’s words, “If there is a ‘COVID Silver Lining,’ it’s that we have been given an opportunity to rethink our priorities.” 

 

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