By BOB VARMETTE
The Liberty Hill Youth Soccer Association is growing rapidly.
The increase in the number of players might be easily dismissed by the rapid growth of Liberty Hill itself. And, yes, there are more children, which means more potential soccer players for the association.
But it’s also the people in LHYSA, Larry Price said.
“I’m very happy with the organization,” said Price, who has three daughters playing LHYSA soccer. “I really like what they’ve done with the association, trying to keep the fees down, and getting a lot of people to make contributions in different ways.”
The LHYSA has experienced 10 percent annual growth since 2011, according to LHYSA President Richard Marshall, who is now in his third term heading the organization. There are now 29 total teams split across two divisions and representing eight age groups.
The number of teams provide many opportunities. For the youngest players, who compete in U-6, U-8 and U-10, there are 21 teams made up of both boys and girls. While the older players – U-11 through U-18 – have eight teams, including a boys team that will likely comprise almost to a man the Liberty Hill High School boys soccer team, which will begin full UIL play this season.
It’s been a very successful presidency for Marshall, who first won election in 2011 by just two votes.
“I wouldn’t take credit for anything,” he said. “I have just an incredible board. I’m just the public face to it. And I believe it’s both Liberty Hill’s growth and the people and our ability to run a successful program.”
Having a successful program provides Price’s three daughters – Ashley, Elena and Ida – an opportunity to play and a chance to dream.
It all started for the Prices with Ashley, who now plays U-11 soccer. She was encouraged to play and influenced by her father’s passion for the game, largely built from a stint overseas in Italy while serving in the U.S. Navy.
“The younger girls, they watched their older sister play and they wanted to follow her lead,” Price said.
And Elena, who plays in U-8, and Ida, who plays in U86, have.
The key is to keep them playing, Marshall said. Recently, more youth soccer players have been sticking with the sport.
It wasn’t too long ago the large number of youth soccer players would dwindle year by year as they got older. Playing opportunities, particularly for girls, were historically lacking in the past.
But that’s changed. They can have heroes now, and there’s more of a focus on the sport, as well as better promotion.
“We’re so much more serious about soccer now than when I was growing up,” said Marshall, who grew up in Concord, Calif. “There was some soccer interest, but they weren’t passionate about it. But players got good, coaches got knowledgeable, and we got passionate.”
Youth soccer has grown nationally, and particularly in Liberty Hill, said Marshall, who has been involved with the LHYSA on and off for nearly 15 years as his three children – Christina, Andrew and Samantha – have played for the association.
The LHYSA has even enticed some club players to return to the association now that there are teams on which they can play.
That’s a big positive.
“Absolutely,” Marshall said. “If they all come back from their club teams, we can keep them playing together.”
There are still challenges to keeping them playing together as the players get older, he added. Dating and jobs, as well as football, basketball, baseball and softball, continue to winnow the roster.
And there is also the higher cost of playing at the more advanced levels.
The teams travel more, and travel farther for matches, and they usually need better-quality fields on which to play.
“It’s a struggle,” Marshall said. “The kids get good, and they want to play at the next level. That requires a different type of organization.”
Which the LHYSA now is, Price said. And that benefits everyone, not just the top players.
“Soccer’s for everybody,” he said. “Anybody can play soccer and be good at it.”