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Thousands get their kicks from soccer

Dispatch/Argus Photo By Chuck Thomas

Soccer is growing in popularity at a tremendous rate in the Quad-Cities. Alleman's Eric Vize, left, tries to defend against United Township midfielder Eric Andrus during a soccer game in Rock Island last September.

While some sports have stages of mediocrity, one activity that has continued to remain strong is soccer. And in the Quad Cities, the event has grown on a annual basis at a huge rate.

According to Moline Parks & Recreation superintendent Milt Hand, youth soccer was jump-started years ago.

``This is going back a few years, but Jose Medina began a youth program with 35 kids then and it's continued to grow since,'' he said

And with the growth in popularity on both sides of the river, the question now is: Where can you play?

Moline alone has expanded to more than 800 kids, ages 5 to 14, in the spring and fall leagues alone. While the Green Valley Complex has six fields to play on, the growing sport is running out of space.

``Every day of the week there is someone down there playing,'' referred Mr. Hand on the complex at Green Valley. ``They (kids) compete every chance they get.''

But the numbers are even more staggering outside the parks and rec leagues in the Q-C area. The youth soccer programs have expanded to compete outside the bi-state region.

Roger Abbitt, president of the Illowa Soccer Association Center in Moline, points to many reasons for the high popularity in soccer at such a young age.

``It's a game kids can play at a fairly early age and there is room in the game for kids not necessarily big or overly strong,'' said Mr. Abbitt, who has been running competitive soccer leagues in the area since the spring of 1987.

``The game lends itself to more variety for the kids. They can start at an early age and build from there.''

In the Q-C area alone, there are 11 to 13 clubs from 22 different organizations that play competitively year-round. Last fall, Mr. Abbitt scheduled games for more than 171 teams, including squads from Dubuque, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and the Peoria area.

Include an average of 15 kids per team, that figures up to over 2,500 participants in the competitive leagues, which does not include the recreation divisions in the area.

The future looks to be just as good for youth soccer. ``I anticipate the numbers to be stable in comparison to the population (in the Q-C),'' said Mr. Abbitt. ``There shouldn't be big swings one way or the other; maybe more growth for girls since not as many participate now.''

One aspect of youth soccer that has taken a big jump is the indoor version. ``Indoor has really taken off the last few years,'' said Mr. Abbitt.

``We have three indoor and two outdoor leagues. Soccer has really become a year-round sport and many squads are going 40-50 weeks of playing indoor/outdoor games in a year.''

And with games going on every night of the week, every week of the year, youth soccer and the Quad-Cities will continue to grow together.

-- By Ryan Dieckman (February 9, 1998)

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