It's no secret that high school soccer on the Kenai Peninsula has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few seasons. Just where all those skilled, talented and polished players have been coming from has been a bit of a mystery.
The answer, as it turns out, happens to be the central peninsula's own back yard.
Want proof? Just swing by the FAA fields on Frontage Road between Bridge Access and the Kenai Senior Center on Wednesday or Friday evenings, and take a gander at the fruits of the Kenai Peninsula Soccer Club's labor namely the 190 players who have been putting that field to good use with the club's seven boys teams and five girls teams in seven age groups.
A new sign posted at the corner of the field proclaims the site to be the temporary home of the Kenai Peninsula Soccer Club, but club president Tom Bennett is hoping the exposure of playing in a busy part of town twice a week will help the club become a more permanent fixture.
Indeed, the club has grown dramatically over the past four years after being incorporated in 1996. In 1999, the club fielded two teams. Four teams took to the pitch in 2000, seven in 2001 and 10 in 2002.
"Soccer is a very popular sport," Bennett said of the club's growth. "Mostly, it's not kids that are hard to come by, but parent support. One of our biggest problems is that people don't know about us."
But the word is starting to get out. The club, which has a Web site at www.soccer.kenai.com, includes players from across the central peninsula, from Nikiski to Sterling to Kasilof and Clam Gulch.
Holly Perkins of the Kenai Peninsula Soccer Club's U-13 Conquest dribbles the ball down the field as U-12 Riverhawks' Shana Powell and Jenna Redford pursue during league play Friday.
Photo by McNair Rivers
The biweekly league games are used to prepare for the club's main focus, a series of large competitive tournaments in Anchorage and Fairbanks. The club also hosts a tournament over the Fourth of July weekend.
The first of the big tournaments, the Ina Kristiansen Memorial Cup, takes place next weekend in Anchorage.
"It's three months of competitive soccer," Bennett said. "Last year, we had a couple of teams that did very well, so it's been a very successful program in that respect, considering we have a much smaller pool of players to pick from than the big-city teams."
The club offers players the opportunity for competition that is a bit more intense than what they would find in recreational Boys and Girls Club games, and boasts a staff of United States Youth Soccer Association-certified coaches.
"We have a lot of adults that played soccer and want to be involved with their kids," Bennett said. "They thought it was fun when they were kids.
"It takes a lot of people. There's a lot of bookkeeping, and a lot of hauling kids around."
On top of that, this year's to-do list included making the FAA field playable. The club asked the city of Kenai for permission to use the fields, and has worked to get them into shape, leveling out the divots, painting lines and installing goals made from materials donated by Morgan Steel.
"One evening, we had 40 people over there working on the field," Bennett said.
The payoff has been in the development of some pretty good soccer players games this past Friday featured some pretty good ball control, nice give-and-go passing, several very nice crosses and a few absolutely cracking goals.
"It's not that we're only out here to win," Bennett said. "We're out here to develop skills. We enjoy the game, but we do try to learn new skills and perfect the ones we have."
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