The following is a brief history of how I was involved in bringing soccer to Marco Island and how the sport has grown here.
After thinking of retirement from UK professional and recreational soccer in the late 90’s, my initial coaching was with the Optimist Club of Naples, where I developed good contacts with all nationalities and enjoyed a competitive game on a Wednesday evening at Veterans Park, Naples. A Naples team was formed which was great fun. The Optimist Club of Naples was keen to extend their program to Marco Island, but interest on Marco had not taken off with the kids nor, more importantly, with the parents. After gaining a Florida State Coaching License, I decided to help where I could on Marco Island and joined Steve Foster, then coach for Marco Island Charter Middle School. It was a great partnership with both coaches having a great passion for the game.
A meeting with the Parks and Recreation Boards in 2000 was held to bring to the attention of the board the rapidly increasing interest in the sport throughout America, and the need to recognize this growing sport on Marco Island. Although, Parks and Recreation were very interested, the general opinion was that soccer would never be a major sport in America. Later in 2000, an upgrade of the Mackle Park soccer field and the resizing to FIFA regulations was recommended and was approved by City Manager, Bill Moss, and Director of Parks and Recreation, Dana Souza.
Early in 2001 the Charter Boys won their first Soccer Trophy. Considering the school had limited players we were fortunate at the time to field a full team plus 2 or 3 subs. We were very proud of the team as they beat Naples teams, where the game of soccer was more accepted and a growing schools sport. Unfortunately Steve received a very bad injury playing on a poorly maintained field and was forced to retire from both soccer coaching and refereeing. Steve was a registered soccer referee and had a depth of knowledge of the game.
Soccer was now starting to rapidly develop on the Island through the Charter School. This awareness was recognized by the Parks and Recreation Department and, thanks to Dana Souza, the playing surface was again improved by re-turfing and an improved sprinkler system. The Marco community now recognized the need to develop soccer, not only through the players but also their parents.
I introduced programs in 2003 and 2004 Soccer Summer Camps which were a great success, but for reasons not known did not continue. This did not affect the progress of the sport and I continued to work with the Charter School, encouraging the introduction of assistant coach to help with the coaching. Charter School teacher Jackie Sauter joined the squad in 2003 and was a joy to work with. Jackie is a skilled soccer player and provided the high quality of coaching support needed. It also helped to have a school in-house soccer coordinator. Jackietook over the coaching position after two years and I helped out as needed. The interest in soccer was really taking off at the Charter School and we found that pre-season tryouts and cuts were needed.
Parents’ interest was increasing, and at the end of the 2003 season, we introduced a Team versus Parents game, which initially was suggested as a joke. The game day arrived and we had a full team of enthusiastic parents wanting to show the kids that they also could play soccer. To this day, the Team v. Parent is an end-of-season fun game.
Who said soccer would not take off!
Working closely with Parks and Recreation (again, Dana Souza), it was decided that the City would work with the idea of a Beach Soccer Camp. This was encouraged by Tony Smith, another passionate soccer coach. Tony is now a Florida State Coach and also coaches at both the Charter School and helps coach at Lely High School. The past two years were a complete success and Tony has a full summer program again for 2010, supported by the City, and included in the Parks and Recreation Summer Program.
Next came further interest and contribution from both parents and local businesses. The Optimist Club of Marco Island which was formed in 2009, included soccer as a main sport, thanks to the likes of Kim and Tim Burke, Joe Bartos, Tom Garousi, and others.
Joe Bartos has also established the Marco Island 3v3 Soccer Club and is having great success both in local tournaments and traveling.
The City was also keeping up with the growth of sporting activities and the need for improved facilities, with the upgrading of Winterberry and Mackle Park. In addition, flood lights were installed at both venues making the facilities perhaps some of the best in SW Florida. Both venues can now accommodate multi-purpose sports, and the demand is still growing.
Discussion with Parks and Recreation Director Brian Milk in May 2009, was to develop competitive traveling boys’ and girls’ teams to represent the City of Marco Island. Selection would be based on tryouts. Only the players with the best skills and a competitive spirit would be selected. Private sponsorship and support from the city would be required. A further meeting was held recently with Brian Milk of Parks and Recreation, to progress the idea and to highlight again the on-going interest in soccer. Mr. Milk discussed possible future plans for Mackle Park and for other venues. These are very exciting projects. Parks and Recreation realize the growing need for extra and improved sports facilities.
It was also interesting to meet and discuss the sports interest on Marco Island with Frank R Recker, Council Chairman. Frank is fully behind the growth of sports and the need to have the best accommodation for Marco Island children and youth. Thanks to Frank the floodlight project was approved, which allows daytime and evening activities, thereby making the best use of the City sports facilities. Parents’ interest in supporting soccer is now really growing as they see it as a very active, inexpensive, and healthy sport for their children. Mike Vanderjagt ex-kicker for the Colts is now coaching soccer and is very active in both 3v3 and Optimist. All we have to do is teach Mike how to kick! (That’s a joke, Mike, honestly).
Researchers from the University of Copenhagen found that kicking a ball with friends not only leads to better overall fitness levels than running, but also to a higher degree of motivation to keep exercising, and an increased ability to keep and create new friendships. It also improved endurance and sprinting ability, and increased the participants’ oxygen consumption—an indication of physical fitness and muscle mass.
Crucially, the study concluded that those who played soccer continued their training as a group compared to other individual sports.