Animas Valley Elementary students rushed onto the soccer field en masse Wednesday to practice drills with their friends through a free pilot program to bring the sport to La Plata County kids.
Rio Rapids Durango Soccer Club, formerly known as Durango Youth Soccer Association, worked with the elementary school to start the program to serve students who cannot join a soccer team because of the expense or distance from their homes, said Kate Stahlin, director of operations for the soccer club.
“We really feel a responsibility to support our community,” she said. The club funded a head coach for the pilot program and provided 50 soccer balls.
The six-week soccer skills camp held each Wednesday drew 60 students in kindergarten through fifth grade eager to learn soccer basics, she said.
The camp organizers had expected about 30 students to sign up and had to recruit additional parent volunteers to ensure all 60 students could participate, said Alison Layman, assistant principal of the school. Volunteers work with students in the camp in smaller groups organized by grade level to ensure they have a chance to practice drills geared to their skill level.
Rio Rapids Durango would like to continue soccer camps at Animas Valley Elementary and expand them to other areas of the county, such as Sunnyside and Ignacio, Stahlin said. She hopes the camps offer kids a chance to learn good sportsmanship, respect and a chance to get exposed to the sport, she said.
“Even though this isn’t an organized team setting, these kids are still getting a lot of the same fundamental things out of it,” she said.
Fifth grader Olivia Cuellar, 10, said she wanted to participate because her family can’t afford the Rio Rapids program and she got bored with the city of Durango Parks and Recreation program. Through Parks and Rec, her team played the same opponents over and over again and she didn’t feel like she was learning anything new.
“This is a way to still work on my skills and just get with the ball,” she said.
But she is applying her skills during recess with a team of fifth graders who play a team of fourth graders, which she enjoys.
“It’s fast-paced and it’s running and you have to keep up and you have to be aware where the ball is going, where you need to be,” she said.