Story By Denice Patterson
Photography By Genie Leigh Photography
The spring sky is blue and partly cloudy as the rising sun warms up the morning. Ahead, on an expanse of green manicured fields, boys and girls are running, kicking and laughing their way through the pre-game warm ups. One after another, parents and grandparents unload vehicles and head across the parking lots to fields at Ocean Isle Beach, Cedar Grove and Southport. Folding chairs slung over shoulders and coolers in hand, families gather to cheer on the kids for Saturday soccer with the Brunswick United Soccer Club. Viewing the crowded parking lots, it is safe to say this high-energy sport is gaining ground with the kids of Brunswick County.
For nearly 20 years, parents in Shallotte and Southport have hosted private soccer clubs for recreational play. With minimal financial resources and all-volunteer coaches, the two clubs began to develop the local youth soccer talent. Both groups had growing enrollments, but they realized they could accomplish so much more for the youth of Brunswick County if they united.
In the summer of 2012, the two clubs merged into Brunswick United Soccer Club, offering their inaugural season last September. Brunswick United has made great strides since then, expanding to 450 registered players with nearly a dozen volunteer coaches and growing affiliations with both college and professional soccer players from Wilmington. In addition, Brunswick United is a member of both the North Carolina Youth Soccer Association (NCYSA) and the United States Youth Soccer Association (USYSA).
Tripp Smith, coach of the West Brunswick High School men’s soccer team, was president of the former Shallotte Youth Soccer for more than a decade. Along with a few other long-time volunteers, Smith joined with Ted Johnson, president of the former Southport club, to be instrumental in the merger of the two organizations.
“The new club is designed to offer the kids of the county more opportunities,” Smith says. “I have been waiting for this for a long time.”
Johnson, who is the current president of Brunswick United, agrees.
“Since the merger, we are now able to offer more levels of play that are standard in American youth soccer today: academy, recreational, challenge and classic play,” he explains.
Previously the Shallotte Youth Soccer Club had registered both boys and girls from ages 4 to 14. Southport membership was around the same. For Brunswick United, the second half of the season in spring 2013 has also seen an increase in membership.
Smith explains the early success: “To offer the new levels of play, we needed more areas to come together to have a greater player pool.”
In the past, both Southport and Shallotte had been losing players to Wilmington clubs — the Cape Fear Soccer Club is a few miles across the river on Highway 421.
Johnson adds, “Another goal of expanding our market is to provide more opportunity for players over age 8. As our players get older, we tend to lose them to other sports such as baseball and football. With increased numbers, we are able to offer more soccer to the older players.”
The expanding Brunswick United now offers two teams in the challenge level.
“These teams travel around southeastern North Carolina to play games at the higher level,” Johnson says.
Johnson and Smith hope to increase the number of travel teams as membership expands. In addition, according to Smith, Brunswick United now offers more opportunities closer to home.
“With the merger, we can draw some players back to the county, because the Brunswick Forest and Waterford areas have great demographics,” Smith says.
Players have joined from the Supply, Lockwood Folly and Town Creek areas. The new club has also offered changes in where games are played. The U10 and U12 boys and girls teams play games throughout the county — at Ocean Isle Beach, Southport and Cedar Grove Middle School; the U6 and U8 teams play at their respective home fields.
The players practice one to two nights each week for an hour to an hour and a half, participating in skill drills and scrimmages. Whereas learning to run while keeping an eye on the ball is the name of the game for the U6 coeds, the older players are taught more advanced skills, including ball mastery, dribbling, balance and maintaining proper foot and body mechanics
From the Shallotte area, Mary Teeters and her husband, John, have three children in the club. The Teeters’ children have played soccer for five years now, and the family has seen the club grow exponentially. When they first joined upon moving here from Charlotte, there was a real need for coaches. Neither parent had ever played soccer before, but both learned to coach on the job. Mary also helped with registration and other administrative duties for the former Shallotte club. The Teeters enjoy soccer for many reasons.
“We home school, so soccer fills the need for a physical education class,” Mary says. “We also really love the outdoor play, skills and physical development — with soccer no one is standing around, players are constantly moving.”
With three children playing at different levels and at different fields, Mary is content to be the regular soccer mom, carpooling and cheering on the sidelines.
Crista Thomas of the Southport area has two children in the club. The family couldn’t be more pleased with the merger of their former club with Shallotte.
“We love to cheer on all the kids now,” she says. “And the coaches are just fantastic.”
In addition to Smith and Johnson, the coaches include Patrick Lawson, head men’s soccer coach at South Brunswick High School, and Tirso Gonzalez, treasurer of the club. This spring NCAA–level coach John Adams joined the list of volunteers at Brunswick United. He is the former assistant women’s soccer coach at Rice University in Houston. He brings extensive technical experience to the field as well as offering training for the coaches.
“Training our volunteer coaches is vital,” says Smith, who now serves as the director of coaching for the club. “Some of our coaches are working on certifications this year.”
As with any growing youth sports organization, the need for volunteers is growing. The club is always in need of more volunteer coaches, and the need for administrative support is increasing as well.
It is easy to see why soccer is a popular sport with both parents and children. The game is fast-paced, the equipment is inexpensive and the friendships created can last a lifetime. Unlike other youth sports, soccer offers two seasons of play – the fall season runs for eight weeks from September to November, and the spring season is from February to April.
Registration for fall 2013 begins in July. The registration fee includes uniform jersey, shorts and socks. Parents must provide soccer shoes and shin-guards. A limited number of scholarships are available. Check the club’s website for details at www.southportsoccer.org .
From pre-school little kickers in pigtails and pink shoelaces to pre-teen budding athletes and beyond, the Brunswick United Soccer Club is helping players to improve skills, get in shape, make friends and have lots and lots of fun.