South Whidbey youth soccer players get ready to play in a match last year. (Photo provided)

South Whidbey youth soccer players get ready to play in a match last year. (Photo provided)

SW youth soccer overcomes challenges, but needs help in ’21

After having its spring season canceled, the South Whidbey Youth Soccer Club was able to navigate the COVID-19 protocols and offer summer and fall activities for its athletes.

Now the club is focusing on 2021 and the challenges it will present.

“We largely view the summer and fall as a resounding success, all things considered,” Club President Bob O’Brien said. “We have received feedback from parents that soccer practice was incredibly important in helping their kids maintain their mental and physical health during these difficult times.”

“At SWYSC, we are optimistic that 2021 will be a great year,” he added. “Though things look bleak now, there is also hope, given the news around vaccines, that we can start to plan to get back to regular practices and game schedules for all age groups.”

Like all other youth sports across Washington last spring, the South Whidbey soccer season was shut down when the coronavirus hit.

As summer approached, the SWYSC held internal discussions and talked with various partners, including South Whidbey Parks and Recreation, the Island County Health Department and Washington Youth Soccer, about the prospect of re-starting the local soccer program.

Those discussions convinced the South Whidbey Youth Soccer Club to give it a try; the club chose to start with the older players who were more likely to follow safety protocols and who held the highest interest in playing again.

“To be honest, I was extremely nervous about this,” O’Brien said. “My brother, back in New York state, was infected with COVID in early March and spent 68 days in the hospital…His wife and one of his daughters was infected as well. So, starting to have kids gather together to breathe heavily was not an exciting prospect for me.”

O’Brien’s concerns eased some after reviewing the protocols developed by Washington Youth Soccer in concert with the governor’s office. The SWYSC also had discussions with the Island County Health Department, in particular with Heather Kortuem, a member of the environment health division.

“I became convinced that we could start to practice safely,” O’Brien said. “The Island County Health Department at one point approved a waiver for us to practice based on protocols we submitted, and the players, coaches and parents stepped up big time.”

South Whidbey eventually fielded five teams, which includes both boys and girls from ages 10 to 18.

Some of the South Whidbey teams were not able to play in the North Puget Sound League because several of its teams were in counties with high infection rates, but they were able to play against teams from Oak Harbor and Clallam County.

O’Brien said the help of the Island County Health Department and South Whidbey Parks and Recreation, headed by Doug Coutts, assisted in making the season a success.

For this success to continue in 2021, the SWYSC needs additional help, particularly within its administration, according to O’Brien.

“We have had several volunteers helping to run the club that have been in place for years, and several that don’t even have kids playing soccer any more —— not that that is a requirement, but it makes the most sense,” he said. “As the largest youth sports organization on South Whidbey, we need help and new blood to help jump start an amazing 2021 for our kids.”

SWYSC also took a financial hit in 2020, O’Brien said, and will have challenges with the “logistics of equipment and uniform acquisitions.”

The club also needs new coaches and referees (which are paid), and much more, according to O’Brien.

The club will hold its annual general meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 14, via Zoom. Details on the meeting are available at the club’s website, www.swysc.com.

A South Whidbey youth soccer player advances the ball in a past game. (Photo provided)

A South Whidbey youth soccer player advances the ball in a past game. (Photo provided)