Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles on the Liberty Hill Youth Soccer Association.
By Joseph Garcia
With over 3.5 billion fans worldwide, soccer is the most popular sport on the planet. In the United States, soccer has gained popularity over the past decade, especially among the country’s youth including those living here in Liberty Hill.
The Liberty Hill Youth Soccer Association (LHYSA) has served children of the Liberty Hill area since the late 1990s and remains focused on providing structured activities to create a positive, nurturing environment for learning about and participating in the game of soccer.
Throughout the season, players learn the fundamentals of the game and develop self-confidence in a team environment. Additionally, children’s active participation in the sport helps them begin to understand the importance of physical activity as a key ingredient to living a healthy life, according to the association.
As a 501(c)3 non-profit, charitable organization run by parent volunteers, the LHYSA’s financial support comes primarily from businesses in and around Liberty Hill. The LHYSA soccer fields are located in City Park on County Road 200, a tract of land that was donated years ago to the City.
Children ages 4-18 are welcome to participate (age as of August 1). Cost to register is $90 for the first child and $80 for each additional child of the same family. The LHYSA is considered to be more of a recreational league where everyone can participate rather than a select league where players must make the cut and pay higher fees to play (Division III – ages 10-18 and Division IV – ages 4-9).
Recreational soccer means everyone gets to play and each player plays at least 50 percent of each game, according to the association. The objective in recreational soccer is to get the kids playing and having fun and building skill sets. The focus is not just on winning, but rather on balancing the desire to win with the desire to allow everyone a chance to play.
There are tournaments at the Div III level, but they are area wide only. However, the winners do not move to regional, state or national championship tournaments. LHYSA has two seasons a year (spring and fall) with normally eight games played per season.
Select (Div I and Div II) is where players try out and you may not get to play during games. The objective in select soccer is to win.
Association President Richard Marshall said the group has two flagship charters the entity maintains.
“One of them is to provide athletics for the betterment of our kids,” said Marshall. “The other is not one we speak of as much, but it’s almost equally as important. The other goal that we have as a league is to bring together the parents as a community. (We want) to create community inside Liberty Hill.”
Marshall said it’s important when people come together, see each other on the soccer field and talk to one another.
“And when they are done with the games they go out to the restaurants in town and sit down and hang out together,” Marshall said. “It builds stronger friendships and stronger community inside Liberty Hill. We consider that to be one of the most important parts of what we do. That’s why we do beginning and end of season celebrations and that’s why we try and accommodate people’s needs with the way the league is structured so that everyone can participate if they can.”
This past spring season LHYSA had about 220 players participate on 21 teams and was by all measures an extremely successful season, Marshall said
“All the kids had a great time,” Marshall said. “We did not have any of our teams go to the championship this time around, but most of our teams came really close. So we did pretty good. We had some winning records out there.”
In the fall, the LHYSA will have enough older players to form a U19 (under the age of 19) group. It is something the association has not had in a while due to lack of players. And while the LHYSA is currently a recreational league, Marshall is not ruling out the possibility of select teams playing as well in the future.
“Hopefully we will just keep growing the league each season,” Marshall said. “Some kids and parents prefer to stay recreational because select involves more money, more travel, more games and more risk of not getting to play (especially Division I). Some kids want to play soccer and play other sports, too. Liberty Hill has managed to keep together a strong recreational league that may reach all the way to U19 age level next season and this is attracting kids and parents from other areas because they don’t have to deal with the politics and challenges of select soccer.
“If we continue to be really successful as a league, we will probably eventually end up with some select teams. This is a good thing, but if we are smart we will always maintain a recreational league as well. In this way we will cater to all levels of players and continue to create a strong community around our soccer fields,” he said.
Marshall said the long-term vision, based on growth, includes rearranging the soccer fields so that the older squads have a full, regulation-size pitch to play on.
“We have to move our fields around to accommodate a larger U16 and U19 field for the older kids and we are going to put lights out (there),” Marshall explained. “Our written and stated goal is to move the fields around so that the oldest players have a properly sized field to play on.”
Other future plans include replacing the old flagpole with a new one that includes a light, and building a new concession stand. The old one burned in 2007.
“We have plans to dedicate that flagpole to the veterans of Liberty Hill on our kickoff September 8,” Marshall said. A kickoff celebration will follow the flagpole ceremony.
A temporary concession stand will be in place for the fall, and over the next year LHYSA plans on fundraising to be able to build a proper one, said Marshall.
The LHYSA, like other youth sports leagues in Liberty Hill, makes a positive impact in children’s lives by keeping them occupied and active. Marshall said the kids end up interacting with each other in constructive ways with the community all around them and celebrating them and cheering them on. He also said there is not competition with the other youth leagues in Liberty Hill.
“One of the most powerful parts of Liberty Hill is the youth leagues and how strong they are and how many activities we have for our children that keep them out of trouble,” Marshall said. “Kids have to have something to do. They have to have activities that make them feel important and validated and keep them occupied. It takes a lot of money to keep kids out of trouble and this is one way to do it. You give them soccer fields to play on; you give them football fields and basketball programs.”