Optimist youth soccer bounces back

Sports Advocate

By Kirk Winter

Youth sports send out mixed message for summer of 2020
After two years of being unable to operate because of the pandemic, the Lindsay Optimist Club reintroduced their program in 2021-2022, and returned in 2023 with nearly twice as many players. File photo.

The Lindsay Optimist Club, which recently celebrated their 50th year, tries hard to live up to its credo of “a friend of youth.” For the last 40 years the club has provided recreational youth soccer in Lindsay, open to children from right across Kawartha Lakes.

After two years of being unable to operate because of the pandemic, the club reintroduced their program in 2021-2022, drawing more than 300 boys and girls wanting to improve their soccer skills, be part of a team and enjoy eight weeks of soccer for a modest cost.

The club hoped for even better numbers for 2022-2023, the first summer in four where the shadow of the pandemic is no longer hanging over team sports. What they got was 525 youth signed up for play this May and June. The season began May 8 and concluded the week of June 26 with a mid-season tournament played on June 3.

This is a good news story,” said club representative Pete Sanderson. “We didn’t run for a couple of years because of COVID-19 and we only got back into the swing of it last year.”

The Optimist Club, made up of 35 men and women who give their time willingly to any activity that benefits young people, worked hard to find volunteer coaches for all the teams, train youth referees who ensured the older age groups played the game correctly, and ordered hundreds of uniforms to give players a sense of comradery and belonging.

Steve Turner at Lindsay Sportsline has been terrific at getting our shirts done for many years,” Sanderson said. “Councillor Charlie McDonald, who is a club member, trained and booked the referees this season. Long time member Jack Kyle took care of finding the 50-some sponsors we needed this season. Those businesses or individuals who sponsor our teams are much appreciated. Brent Walmsley, another long-time Optimist Club member, coordinated the whole show this season.”

To encourage maximum participation, fees to play Optimist soccer have not increased since 2019.

Sanderson pointed out that with the help of generous sponsors like Tim Horton’s, all players in the U-7 age group received full uniforms to begin their soccer journeys.

Once all the behind-the-scenes work was completed, the club was able to field teams at the U7, U9, U11, U13 and U16 age groups where no parent paid more than $70 to register their child.

The league ran Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights playing at Wilson Fields and Optimist Park right across the street. Any given evening all the pitches were filled with young people learning the so-called “beautiful game.”

The Optimist Club of Lindsay is particularly proud of the new Optimist Soccer Park with three regulation sized fields on the 13-acre site, located east of the tennis courts on St. Joseph Road. The park includes parking and pathways that community members have used extensively since the park opened in the summer of 2013. During the summer of 2019, club members invested over 1,000 hours of volunteer labour to construct a storage pavilion to complement the park. This multigenerational park project has become a resource for all citizens of Lindsay, young and old, and serves as home base for Optimist soccer every summer.

Walmsley admits that taking on a project of this size on a yearly basis is a challenge for the club but said, “Running soccer brings our members together. Almost everyone in the club has a part to play and without their participation and work this league wouldn’t be possible.”

Walmsley is very excited about next season as the club this summer fielded 28 teams in the two youngest age groups. Those players often move up the pyramid of play as they return season after season to play soccer with friends and family.

We want to sincerely thank our great volunteer coaches and our crew of young referees. We could not run our program without them,” Walmsley said. “We also want to thank the numerous businesses and individuals who step up every year to sponsor our teams and the city parks staff who work tirelessly to get our fields ready for play. We hope that everyone had a great season and learned some new soccer skills, made some new friends, and had a fun time. We especially thank the parents for being so supportive of our program.”

The city is very fortunate, Sanderson said, as it is well served at all levels for kids who want to play soccer, including more coordination between the Optimists, the Boys and Girls Club and the Kawartha Inferno program so kids who want to play more can do so.

Walmsley encourages anyone interested in joining the Optimist Club to visit lindsayoptimistclub.org/membership.

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