Chasing the checkered sphere. It’s the pastime of millions around the world and how 650 local children will spend their Saturdays this fall.
Iberia Soccer Association is cranking back up for its fall season. On Thursday, about 100 children were at the PepperPlex practicing, preparing and kicking the ol’ ball around. The season starts Sept. 8, said Nayson Smith, 45, ISA league administrator.
Smith said the bulk of the kids come from Iberia Parish, but ISA pulls from St. Martin, Vermilion and Lafayette parishes. He said ISA just lowered the minimum age to 3-year-olds, so kids ranging 3 to 17 years old will be darting around the fields this fall. There will be about 75 teams, all of which will play their games on Saturdays.
“The bulk of our teams are the 4 - to 12 - year-olds,” Smith said, noting ISA has been in existence for 12 years and it’s starting its fifth season at the PepperPlex.
Since its inception, ISA has grown by leaps and bounds, doubling its size in the past six years, Smith said. He thought the PepperPlex, which opened fall 2007, has been the driving force in attracting more players.
“Moving here generated a lot of buzz and a lot of excitement, and we’ve just built on that year to year,” said the New Iberia resident.
ISA has a fall and spring season each year and the PepperPlex is buzzing with anticipation about the forthcoming fall one.
“It kind of coincides with the start of school,” Smith said.
The game Europeans call “football” Smith described as a high-energy sport where children are more engaged with the activity on the field than in other athletic pursuits.
“Certainly kids are more engaged in the physical activity than in baseball. … The kids are constantly running,” Smith said, noting soccer players in the older age groups can run two or three miles in a game.
On Thursday, coaches and administrators were busy in a PepperPlex office building prepping for the season. Smith and his wife, Michelle Smith, 44, led the discussion on procedures for the season.
Smith said he’s only recently taken the role as league administrator and the volunteer job is a tall order.
“It’s really a two-person position, and I get a lot of support from my wife. We kind of do it together,” he said.
His day job is as a special education teacher at the Alternative Center for Education in New Iberia. He and Michelle are putting in four to five hours each night, forming teams securing coaches and getting the fields ready, he said.
“We’re wrapping up team formation process now and we hope to have the schedule out in four to five days,” Nayson Smith said Thursday.
Kenneth Stansbury, 41, of New Iberia is coaching the under-10 “Bulls” and the under-14 “Hotheads” — both are boys teams. Stansbury said he has a son on each team and has been coaching his children for years.
“I just enjoy coaching in general, and I’m still learning soccer, but I’m enjoying teaching kids and watching them play and watching them learn. It’s actually an interesting game,” he said.
One of his coaching strategies is to the kids play several positions on the field. It keeps the players interested and
makes them want to improve, he said. Stansbury, who’s coached soccer seven years, hasn’t had a chance to look at his teams, but he said he knows most of the kids already. That’s because ISA takes a “school-based” approach to how the teams are laid out. Stansbury said most of the Bulls attend Dodson Elementary School and all of the Hotheads attend Belle Place Middle School. “All (the) kids that go to school together ... know each other, so they’re used to playing together,” Stansbury said. “And they enjoy coming together and playing with their friends,” Nayson Smith added. Also, the fall season will be April Owens’ first one as a soccer coach. Owens, 32, of New Iberia said her 12-year-old son plays soccer during baseball’s offseason. “This is my first year in soccer, so I’m excited to (start coaching) a new sport,” she said. “It’s not new for my children, but it’s new for me.” Owens said she thought she could handle the difficulties of coaching without a problem, adding she’s in learning mode. She’ll coach her son’s under-14 boys team. Next week, the team should start practicing and Owens said the key is that the children have a good time. ISA is registering players for the fall season. Parents can go to www.iberiasoccer.com to print out registration forms. or call the soccer hotline at 364-8200.