First- and second-grade soccer players hurried onto a field Monday behind Hillsboro Elementary School. They didn’t care that the field was wet from intermittent rain; they were excited when coach Stephanie Moss said practice would go on as planned.
She founded Marion County United Soccer Club in 2003. In the first season 18 children participated, but it didn’t stay small for long.
Within a couple of years, the club had 250 players, she said. This fall about 150 children are playing.
“I couldn’t have imagined that it would grow to this size,” Moss said.
Players started practice by warming up and stretching. A passing drill followed, then an accuracy practicing game that could be described as soccer dodge ball.
Throughout practice, Moss received help from assistant Jessi Weisbeck and fourth-grader Colin Settle.
Colin began playing soccer four or five years ago, and he started helping with practice last year. He likes that not everyone has to be a great athlete to participate.
“It can be really competitive,” he said. “Or it can just be fun.”
Marion County United plays three players per team, instead of the traditional 11. It has the advantage of letting all of the players be involved at once, Moss said.
Another advantage is that several local teams can be formed, to prevent a need to travel far for games.
Marion County United has teams in Hillsboro, Marion, Centre, and Peabody-Burns school districts. Moss coaches Hillsboro and Marion — each two days per week — Kim Shields coaches Centre, and parents coach at Peabody-Burns.
Moss spent time training Peabody-Burns parents to coach because they wanted their children to be able to play, but they didn’t know anything about soccer.
Moss played soccer at the University of Kansas in the 1986 through 1988 seasons. At the time, girls soccer was a club sport. It has since become a varsity sport at KU.
Michal Lillard is the mother of two boys in the club — Jack, 7, and Harry, 5. She said soccer is a good chance for them to meet other children because they are home-schooled.
She likes that the program is easygoing. The players are able to practice at their own pace, she said. Playing soccer also has given her children a direction to their play.
“They like to play soccer at home now,” Lillard said.
Dani Klein and Ava Weisbeck, both 7, have played together since kindergarten. They said it is fun to play with friends.
Klein thinks the coaches do a good job encouraging teamwork. She said she wants to keep playing soccer as she gets older.
Marion County United has six age divisions — preschool through high school. Moss said she is happy to see the program has sustained its success, because it shows soccer isn’t a passing fad locally.
Moss said she would love to see schools in the county add soccer teams.