Soccer, the beautiful game — the world’s game — has grown in popularity throughout the United States. In terms of participation, South Central
Oklahoma has lagged behind.

In the last four years, from 2011 to 2014, the growth of the Ardmore Greater Oklahoma Association of League Soccer has far outstripped that of the organization’s first 11 years.

Scott Mason, G.O.A.L.S. president, credited the increased involvement of the organization’s volunteer base.

“We’ve seen our rec league almost double,” Mason said. “We may double this number this fall with the addition of the Murray State women’s program on the top end, and now with one of the last pieces of the puzzle locally being high school, the Ardmore High School administration is looking seriously at installing soccer.

“Soccer here in south central Oklahoma has officially begun, and is fixing to become one of the more exciting things that we can talk about, to say the least.”

The sport’s implementation is not imminent, said Jim Holloway, the former interim athletic director at Ardmore High School.

He and Josh Newby, the head football coach and athletic director at Ardmore, sat in on one informational meeting, wherein the Soccer in School Committee presented a formal request to move forward to establish “an appropriate and well-rounded soccer program at Ardmore High School,” Mason said.

Holloway cited the importance of three factors: facilities, financing and a coaching staff. Regional Park in Ardmore is an
option, but the site lacks facilities. For instance, restrooms and locker rooms are not present.

For now, any season mentioned as the inaugural campaign, is
merely speculation.

“If we’re going to sponsor soccer teams, we’re going to do it first class, Holloway said.

The committee — which is comprised of Mason, Brady Hunt, Phil McGinnis and Ryan Hobbs — held a second meeting with Ardmore Superintendent Sonny Bates, when “we have identified the spring of 2017 as a tentative start date, provided certain objectives are met,” Mason said.

He added that Bates is “very enthusiastic,” and all the board members — except for one — are on board. Mita Bates is also very supportive, Mason said.

Bates was not in the office last week to comment.

Back to the sport's beginning
Ardmore G.O.A.L.S. was established in 1999. McGinnis was one of its founders.

Mason said growth occurred exponentially in the last four years because parents’ involvement increased dramatically.

Hunt, the vice president of G.O.A.L.S., played the game in his childhood years. In contrast, Mason called himself a late bloomer, a dad who came home to news that his wife signed up their boys to play soccer.

He learned that the organization was run by volunteers.

“We don’t have grant money or United Way funds coming in,” Mason said. “What we have is just what we can judiciously operate off of, which is the registration fees, which we keep at an all-time low as actively as we can.

“What happens is you have parents involved for the sake of their kids, trying to grow the sport that they love because the true soccer player is not another sport player.”

To that end, parents work “endless hours,” Mason said, shedding “blood, sweat and tears, painting and marking fields, working concession stands, hanging nets and doing whatever they’ve got to do to be able to start bringing soccer here.”

Brittnie Reeves is an alumna of the organization — and an Ardmore High School alumna who will play for the Murray State women’s team in its inaugural season, which starts on Aug. 21 with a home match against Mountain View College.

Reeves’ alma mater is the only Class 5A school in the state that does not offer varsity soccer.

In the 2012-13 school year, 782,514 high school athletes played soccer — 410,982 boys and 371,532 girls — per cnsnews.com. Currently, Madill is the only area high school that offers varsity soccer. In 2012-13, the Lady Cats’ team had 24 players in the 2013-14 season, and the boys program had 22 players. Forty-six players is 0.00005878 percent of all prep players nationally.

Murray State’s impact
Hunt is also an assistant to Murray State men’s soccer coach Shane Ross.

The Aggies’ men’s team begins its second season on Aug. 21. The program has five players from Ardmore, two from Lone Grove and two from Madill. Pedro Garcia, Francisco Villagomez, Josh Miles, Chris Harvey and Zachary Mink-Phillips represent Ardmore; Terry Rowe and Travis Reeves hail from Lone Grove while Edgar Salinas and Javier de la Paz call Madill home.

East Central University offers a women’s team, but no area players populated its 2014 roster.

Hunt’s role as assistant coach at MSC is mutually beneficial, because Hunt knows what Murray State seeks in its players. G.O.A.L.S. can create an age-appropriate coaching curriculum, Mason said. There’s a target skill set, which expands as the kids age and gain experience. Teaching kids these habits early will benefit them later, whether they play soccer in college, a different sport or focus on their academics.

In the interim, Mason said MSC women’s coach Cortney Wiesler is excited that kids get to experience Aggies’ game days. At professional matches, kids can serve as ball boys or girls — and there’s halftime entertainment.

“Murray State is looking at partnering with G.O.A.L.S. to give kids that experience, so, just like Hunt says, so they can look at that program, and say, ‘Wow, maybe someday I can be doing this, too.’”
For those who are closer to their college years, Hunt’s experiences are also invaluable.

“Hunt’s helping send kids off to college to play soccer,” Mason said. “We’re starting to see soccer in Ardmore expand out, and make an impact in the community.

“It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, one of the most exhausting I’ve ever done.”

Hunt agreed.

G.O.A.L.S. progresses
Its success is largely predicated on tough decisions. Hunt said he received a call in 2007 to join the organization. He and McGinnis “started making decisions that others were afraid to make,” Hunt said. “We split the teams, from nine-year-olds and up. Now we have boys teams and girls teams.”

Mason cited studies that show how girls have more success when they’re playing amongst themselves. That applies for the boys, too. “Therefore, the program begins to grow,” Mason said. “That was a hard thing for us to do because teams that have been together for a long time now are on new teams. Looking back on it, it’s one of the best decisions we ever made.

“On the flip side, we decided to kind of take more of an outreach approach to the community.”

For instance, the Sundown Soccer Clinic is near and dear to Mason’s heart, he said, and the Third Annual Clinic — a low-cost event — will occur on Aug. 10, about a week before school starts. It’s an opportunity for parents to get to know the organization’s coaches and learn what the organization strives to accomplish: “grow the sport in the area, instead of just operate it,” Mason said.

Low-quality soccer is not intrinsic to a recreational league. In fact, the organization’s growth is such that the Oklahoma State Soccer Association is sending coaches to Ardmore to hold “E” license clinics.

“We’re looking at possibly trying to expand our partnership with the Youth Elite Soccer Group, which is professional coaches that come up out of the Dallas/Fort Worth area to work specifically with our kids,” Mason said. “Our kids are able to go all throughout the state and hang with any team that’s out there.

“We have a quality soccer program that’s (run) by volunteers.”