Lincoln Youth Soccer: History

Tuesday, April 21
Lincoln Youth Soccer History

What regularly scheduled town event outdraws Town Meeting each week?

What involves more families in town than any other town-wide activity?

What involves more town children than any other function, except school?

Here's a hint;

                        It costs you nothing in taxes.

                        All of the organizers are unpaid volunteers.

                        Most of the participants are under 14.

                        It sends Lincoln representatives to dozens of other towns.

                        It happens in both the spring and fall.

                        It is almost never written about in the Lincoln Journal.

                        It is not historical.If you guessed Lincoln Youth Soccer, you are correct. The annual rite of both spring and fall for a great many Lincoln families with school age children is the start of the soccer season.

Soccer has been played in Lincoln for years. It was the "other" fall sport, besides Football and Cross Country running. It was played occasionally in grammar school, and competitively in high school and college, especially in prep schools and liberal arts colleges. It may have been fantastically popular as "football" in Europe or South America, but here it was an also-ran to our own brand of football. But not any longer.

Hundreds of Lincoln children play pick-up and organized soccer each weekend.   Lincoln Youth Soccer organizes practices, coaching and games for children, from Kindergarten to High School age during the spring and fall. These days there are typically over 400 kids in the program.

Soccer camps, clubs and various player and coaching clinics use Lincoln's fields during the summer and throughout the year. Brooks School fields a traveling team. A regular adult pick-up game occurs most Sunday afternoons whenever the ground is not too frozen or muddy. A more relaxed parents and children game occurs many late Sunday mornings. Lincoln plays soccer.

Several things have contributed to this change in the popularity of soccer, increased opportunity to play not the least among them. Soccer and swimming are currently the only organized competitive sports available in Lincoln for both boys and girls from Kindergarten on up. Soccer is played outdoors in three seasons (and indoors in the winter), practices are usually no more than once a week and the rudiments of the game are obvious to the youngest child.

A number of people stand out among the hundreds of volunteers who have helped shape and organize Lincoln Youth Soccer. In 1979, Harry Bradley and Liz King first organized what was to become Lincoln Youth Soccer. That Fall three mixed teams of 7th and 8th grade boys and girls played together with Concord. The next spring Lincoln's first "Boys Only" 7th grade team played in the Middlesex League. In the Fall of 1980, the program expanded to include younger children, starting with Kindergarten.

In 1981 John Walker became president of the group. In seeking soccer opportunities for his own children, he became a major organizer of soccer both in Lincoln and in eastern Massachusetts. Under John's tenure, Lincoln Youth Soccer moved from the Middlesex League to the newly organized Boston Area Youth Soccer (BAYS) League. Six-a-side games on smaller fields were started for the younger players. Previously the youngest players played full field eleven-a-side soccer. During the mid-80's, under John's leadership, Lincoln Youth Soccer enjoyed ever growing participation by Lincoln's children, with at one point virtually 100% of the boys and 80% of the girls eligible to play enrolled in the program. Soccer games and practices were scheduled to allow participation in other town sponsored children's activities, including baseball. By having baseball and soccer games and practices on different days and at different times, participation in more than one program was possible.

Between 1985 and '86, Massachusetts was second, behind only California, in the total number of children registered to play soccer on United State Youth Soccer Association sanctioned teams and first in per-capita participation. At this time, the majority of teams in Massachusetts were town-based while most other states had club-based teams. Town teams are typically limited to town residents, giving larger towns and cities which could draw players from a large population base, a distinct advantage over their smaller neighbors. Club teams, however, can draw the best players from an entire region. This distinction meant that Massachusetts teams typically did not fare well at the larger, multi-state tournaments.

In an effort to meet the need to provide a higher level of competition for the best regional players, John Walker, Wes Pippin and others organized the Spirit of Massachusetts Soccer Club in 1987. "Spirits" teams were chosen through try-outs and played in a "premier" league made up of other select teams and Olympic developmental teams. The club was initially based in Lincoln, later switching to Concord for its practice and game fields. As the number of clubs expanded across Massachusetts, our tournament fortunes improved accordingly.

Wes Pippin next became the president and prime mover of Lincoln Youth Soccer. As Lincoln's most recent baby boomlet entered kindergarten, the number of children playing town soccer also boomed. He organized rosters, coaches, league and tournament assignments, playing times, et. al. Wes was a one man committee. He simultaneously was active in Spirits, the BAYS league, and the statewide Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association (MYSA). His enthusiasm for the game and ability to share that enthusiasm with others was an added catalyst for the tremendous growth in the program.   Wes was responsible for our initial participation in the fall Assabet Valley Soccer League, and bringing outside club teams and clinics to play and teach in Lincoln. As his children grew older, moving up through the age group divisions, so to did Wes' interests, but Ilga and Jim Paddock were there to help mold and organize the ever-growing program, with particular emphasis on the youngest players.

Ilga and Jim Paddock did not set out to spearhead Lincoln Youth Soccer. When no one appeared to organize and coach the kindergarten age children one Saturday morning, Jim just started doing it. Without fanfare, without seeking credit, drawing other available parents along with him. By the time those children reached first grade, all the parents automatically called Ilga and Jim to find out what was scheduled, would there be a game today, what team is my child on. There was never a vote, everyone felt Ilga and Jim would know, and if they didn't they never let on.

By this point, participation at the youngest levels had grown beyond one hundred children each Saturday morning. Registration fees ($10) went for liability insurance and team shirts. Coaches knew players were registered and therefore insured if they had a Lincoln Youth Soccer shirt. Children could not play without a shirt. Registration each Spring and Fall happened on the first day of the season, with Ilga and Jim handling the entire effort. They had become central figures in the burgeoning program, handling registration; setting team assignments; recruiting, equipping and supporting coaches and aides for the younger teams, and eventually establishing many of the patterns and policies that now direct the entire program.

At Ilga and Jim's urging, player registration was moved back to occur prior to the first weeks of the season. Town-wide lists of eligible boys and girls were developed and an ability to estimate team sizes and the potential numbers of teams became possible. A board of directors for Lincoln Youth Soccer was selected and the responsibility of running the organization was delegated. Wes, Ilga and Jim no longer had to answer all the questions. As an organization, Lincoln Youth Soccer had come of age.

Sadly, Jim Paddock died suddenly during the spring of '92 while on sabbatical in Australia. At his memorial service at the Fletcher School at Tufts University where he was a professor, many of the young boys he had coached over the years sat along side his professional and professorial colleagues, a fitting tribute to his contribution to their lives. The first game of the 1992 Spring season was dedicated to Jim's memory, a black patch was worn by all the boys he coached. Jim's patience, humor and enthusiasm for soccer and for sports for children is sorely missed. This past Spring Ilga Paddock also died, at the age of 54. In memory of their unselfish contribution to both Lincoln and Lincoln Youth Soccer, one of the center fields at the Lincoln school complex has been named Paddock Field.

If the precedent for husband and wife leadership for LYS was set by Ilga and Jim Paddock, Bruce and Cathy Long more than fulfilled the role. Bruce Long became President of the organization in 1990, and wass capably supported by his wife Cathy. She began work in the program in the spring of 1989, prior to Bruce becoming President. Jim and Ilga remained members of the Board of LYS until 1991. 

Bruce and Cathy continued to help shape, expand and lead the organization. Under Bruce′s presidency, the program grew in numbers of teams and players, fielded it′s first team to play in the State-wide Tournament of Champions (Girls U-14, 2000), hired professional coaches for the U-14 and U-16 teams, introduced a series of soccer camps and a full time professional Player Development Officer (PDO) working with all of the teams in the program, worked on several field renovation projects, as well as many other achievements. The LYS Board adopted a formal "constitution", and began to meet regularly throughout the year.

Phil Odence succeeded Bruce as President in 2002 and began to implement some operational changes to support the more formal organization. Phil recruited more board members and worked on defining the roles of the board to ensure smooth operation of the many facets of running a soccer organization. Phil took LYS through its 25th year and organized a large celebration to commemorate the milestone. He recruited Sven Ingard to be the Chairman of the celebration committee and little did Sven know this was Phil’s way of vetting the next President of LYS.

Sven succeeded Phil as President in 2004 and with the help of an active and committed board, guided LYS through some notable changes. One was changing the league affiliation back to BAYS after a number of years in the Middlesex League. Another was expanding the ages where tryouts were required from U14 only to U14 and U12 divisions. During Sven’s tenure, LYS also joined into a master agreement with the Lincoln Recreation Department to formalize the funding of field maintenance and began the process of becoming a not for profit corporation to ensure full protection for all participants under Massachusetts liability laws. In response to broad demand, the first Porta-Potty also made its debut in the fall 2008 season. In 2008 LYS also sponsored a well attended Coach Certification course for interested parents who continued to make up the volunteer army of coaches that really define LYS.

 In 2008, Mike Rosenblatt joined the board after years of involvement in the program as a coach. Mike’s leadership on the board helped drive many of the year’s successes and When Sven stepped down at the end of 2008, Mike succeeded him as President.

Lincoln Youth Soccer fields both in-town and traveling teams during the fall and spring seasons. The youngest play in Lincoln on Saturday mornings. Both boys and girls eligible to start Kindergarten in the fall, and current First and Second Graders learn new soccer skills and play small-sided intramural games. The emphasis is on learning about the game and having fun. At the Third Grade level, separate boys and girls Travel Teams compete against teams from other Boston Area Youth Soccer (BAYS) League towns on 6, 8 or 11 a-side teams depending on the age level. Trained referees replace parents as the on-field arbiters of the game.

Travel team rosters are developed based on age. Historically, from the youngest level up through U-12 teams, parent/coaches divided the players seeking a balanced mix of talents and abilities on all teams and U-14 teams were selected based on yearly tryouts held at the conclusion of the Spring season. Starting in 2006, LYS implemented a change so the U12 teams were also formed on the basis of tryouts. This change met with some resistance and challenges due to the relatively small size of the town and the legacy of social versus competitive team formation.

Parents, and some former players form the backbone of the coaching and organizing efforts of Lincoln Youth Soccer. Without their commitment of time, talent and carpools, the program could not offer as great an opportunity for learning, playing and enjoying soccer as now exists. Come by the schools any Saturday from April to September through early May to November and see what all the cheering is about.   Lincoln Youth Soccer may be Lincoln's favorite pastime.