After a year of empty pitches, the Meadow Lake and District Youth Soccer Association is ready to kick off its 2021 season.

Registration for the upcoming season took place recently and, according to association president Raelynn Gilroyed, the response was tremendous.

 “We just wrapped up registration, and decided to go with three age groups this year,” Gilroyed explained. “We have our youth 10 and under (ages seven to nine), under 14 (ages 10-13) and under 18 (ages 14-17). This year we’re only allowing four teams out of each of those age groups, and each age group will have its own cohorts – this drastically reduces the number of kids who we would register in a typical year.”

Gilroyed went on to describe these limitations – brought about by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – as unfortunate.

“It would be nice to still have the really young kids – ages four to six – because that always seems to be a really big hit with our Meadow Lake community,” she added. “It’s easy for the kids to do, it only requires them to own a pair of running shoes, and they could come out to have fun with other kids. For that age group, it’s the perfect sport for them to do as a way of keeping busy and getting out. Unfortunately, we couldn’t offer it and it’s been a big one for us. That’s where we, as a club, generate the most income because at least 100 kids alone sign up in that age group each year.”

Last year’s soccer season was cancelled as a result of COVID-19.

“The Saskatchewan Soccer Association, at the time, was only offering something very minimal and we didn’t have the manpower or whatnot to really do with our coaching situation, so we decided to take a step back last year and just revamp the whole Meadow Lake Soccer Association,” Gilroyed noted. “We needed to reorganize and revise how soccer was ran the last few years, so we could meet SSA standards in terms of coaching.”

Would-be soccer coaches in Meadow Lake must now have a criminal record check, Respect in Sport training as well as other specialized training based on the age group they plan to coach.

“We’ve had a few people so far who have caught wind of our need for coaches through online posts,” Gilroyed said. “We’ve had a few people reach out to us because of these posts – some who are skilled and experienced. It’s nice to see other people other than parents reaching out to coach based on their love for the sport.”

This was echoed by association vice-president Jinny Nieviadomy who also said the year off allowed the group to focus on securing funds to grow the joy and experience of soccer for youth in and around the community through grant funding.

“MLDYSA was able to secure more than $6,000 through grant applications,” Nieviadomy explained. “These grants would not be possible without the funds received from Sask Lotteries. The Special Project Grant application focuses on providing opportunity for indigenous communities to establish opportunities to enjoy and experience soccer. Clay DeBray of Snipe and Celly Pro Shop was essential in helping make the best choices, put together and place equipment orders. The equipment purchased includes proper sized soccer balls, nets, whistles, bags, flags and stopwatches that will be dispersed to Flying Dust and Waterhen communities to help them set up some great soccer experiences for the youth.”

Gilroyed said this is something she is very excited about.

“Hopefully this will lead to a future relationship where we can host tournaments together,” Gilroyed said. “Through this grant they (Flying Dust and Waterhen) received everything they need to start up their own soccer leagues.”

As of this week’s sports deadline, the available spots in terms of youth registration were filling up fast. As for the season itself, Gilroyed said it could begin mid-May and last until late June.

“We’re mostly looking forward to the kids getting out and enjoying their love for soccer again,” Gilroyed said. “It’s been on hold for too long, and the kids need something to do. Hopefully everything works out.”

by Phil Ambroziak