And on the eighth day -- let there be Soccer!

    Well, maybe it didn’t happen just like that, but from my observation, soccer is one of the “great wonders of the world.” Closer to home – Soccer has definitely taken its place in Mississippi and Meridian along side football, baseball, golf, and basketball.

    On a recent Saturday morning, the blue team arrives at the soccer field – some of the six-year-old youngsters are clearly sleepy, because it is early morning, but as soon as the fresh morning air fills their lungs, the little athletics are ready to play. Parents /grandparents bring lawn chairs and coolers filled with drinks and snacks. They greet the other parents/grandparents who have gathered. It’s a Saturday morning ritual. Coaches call the players to the field.  Time for warm-ups. The little ones run the field, then lineup for kicks into the goal. The adrenaline is flowing.

    The opposing red team forms on the opposite side of the field. Parents are in place with chairs and coolers. The coach counts heads and there are three members missing.  He must have at least one more player on the field in order to qualify to play. He grabs his cell and feverishly makes calls trying to locate the missing team members. Five, four, three, two – the time to play draws near when one more little red jersey is seen running toward the field. Both the red and blue team members and attendees cheer the little player on to the field.  No one has come out this morning to forfeit a game. The referee blows the whistle and the game begins.

    The team’s lineup across center field and the ball is kicked. At times the red and blue jerseys flock together like a bevy of bees with an occasional arm or leg flung to the side. Then, one player breaks loose and with a strong kick that moves the ball forward – only to realize the ball has gone in the wrong direction. The whistle is blown by a patient referee and the ball is kicked again. The coaches “coach” from the sideline. “Move forward, Joey. No, you’re off sides. Watch out – move the ball to the center.” And so the game continues until the whistle is blown for halftime. That’s when the coolers are opened and everyone enjoys drinks and snacks. Tick, tick, tick, and it’s time for the “ref” to call everyone back to the field for the second half kickoff.

    The second half is usually a repeat of the first one, and too quickly the game is over. The parents join the coaches on the field and form a pyramid that allows the players to make their final run – as real soccer champs. It’s all over until next Saturday.  As everyone leaves the field, one little voice in a blue jersey asks, “Who won?”

    Don’t you think everyone is a winner in the game of youth soccer?

    My oldest son was a member of the first soccer league in Meridian. A couple of years later, number two son played as well. Now the granddaughter and grandson play the “game of games.”  During this fall season, husband and I have been fortunate to see both of the grand’s kick the ball for a score more than once, so far. Yes, we have graduated from “Soccer Mom and Dad” to “Soccer Me Maw and Pe Paw” What a joy!

    Youth Soccer has come a long way since those early days. The teams now participate and WIN many state competitions. A few are: State Games of Mississippi, South Mississippi All Star Classic, and Tupelo March Madness Tournament, plus others.

    Have you traveled Eighth Street Road recently on a Saturday morning? You must. You will see throngs of children, moms, dads, grandparents, coaches, and soccer enthusiasts supporting their favorite teams gathered at the J.C. Youth Soccer Complex. The flashes of the colorful team uniforms, the smiles of the happy children, the cheering of parents and grandparents all calculate for the good. Saturday at the soccer field is the place!

    At a point in time when children suffer from inactivity, poor diet, and early health problems, a regular game of soccer could be the answer, or part of the answer. As I have witnessed over the years, soccer games, practices, and all things attached to soccer activities allow the children many health advantages, plus, the fun of competitive sports with their friends and school chums. It’s a “win/win” for everyone.

    I must mention the volunteer soccer coaches, and sponsors, plus committed and trained referees. These unique and talented folks commit to hours of organization and mighty efforts in order to make talented soccer players out of our willing and eager children. Prior to the season, there are many meetings and phone calls, much preparation and diligence – so much more than meets the eye of the attendee. Without these committed people, the successful Meridian Youth Soccer League would not happen.

    Most importantly, a soccer league must have the support of the local officials.  I am happy to report that the City of Meridian has fully supported the game of soccer since the late 1970s and early 1980s through the Meridian Parks and Recreation Department. You should call and thank them (phone, 601-485-1802) for their longtime support of the game of soccer. Check their web site: http://www.meridiansoccer.com/

    So, yes – maybe it is true.  On the eighth day – Let there be Soccer!

    Anne B. McKee is an author and storyteller.  She lives in Meridian. Anne is listed on the Mississippi Artist Roster, sponsored by Mississippi Arts Commission, as a dramatic and literary artist and as a Teaching Artist. She is active with the arts and educational communities throughout Mississippi. Visit her web site: www.annemckee.net.

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