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Schmitt: Soccer teams search for open spaces for youth games

January 1, 2013
By Tom Schmitt - For the Mirror , The Altoona Mirror

One of the biggest barriers to growth youth soccer has battled in our area has been availability of decent field space.

That problem may even grow worse in the near future. As the county commissioners hash out the pros and cons of selling Valley View Nursing Home, the fate of all the Valley View AYSO soccer fields hang in the balance.

If the commissioners decide to accept an offer on the home and part of that would hinge on including the soccer fields in the deal, the Altoona AYSO program which provides a safe, fun environment for children as young as age 4 and up to learn how to play the sport would be finished.

Petitions with hundreds of signatures are all about to save the 23 year old AYSO fields which have been completely maintained in every sense by hundreds of volunteers over the years.

They now work with more than 450 children in spring and fall, and if Valley View fields are lost to them, there is absolutely nowhere in the county that could provide field space for this many children. Almost every player which participates at the high school, travel, division1, classic or collegiate level out of our area has had their beginnings at the Valley View AYSO fields.

They have impacted thousands of players over the years. The Commissioners must look at the financial gains to the county by accepting a very solid offer for the home and grounds, but supporters of the petition to save the fields look at these fields and believe they are a resource where our young people can exercise, learn life lessons, make new friends and come together as a community and see that as far more valuable than making extra money for the county.

Most of the supporters to save the fields believe it is time to put the county's house in financial order but not at the expense of something that is so valuable to hundreds of the county's youth.

Field space is so tight now that in the spring, with the vast increase in registered teams under the Altoona Soccer Club, there is no place for teams to even practice because the only fields available have been the Altoona Area High School IM turf field for practices and games, Mansion Park for a limited number of games only, the Greenwood Soccer fields for u-10 and u-12 competitive games and practice, which often ends up being shared with little league baseball practice, and Leopold Fields in the township which usually are too wet to play a full field game on. So play is limited to u-10 games on Sundays.

If additional land for fields is not donated or made available for play very soon, there literally will be youth teams which may never play a home game. The loss of the Valley View soccer fields is immeasurable, it will have a direct impact on hundreds of players and future impact on thousands if these fields are not protected at all cost. It will be up to the county to prioritize.

Lady Lions make history

At the collegiate level, the Penn State women's soccer team has accomplished something never done before. After winning 15 straight Big Ten titles the ladies went on to compile a 21-4-2 record and appear in their first ever NCAA Championship game after senior midfielder Christie Nairn tapped in the game winner in overtime against the Florida State Seminoles to send them to the finals.

They are only the second Big 10 team to ever appear in the national final. Coach Erica Walsh was not surprised as they had come back from adversity in many games all season. They faced the buzz saw of women's soccer in the final against powerhouse University of North Carolina dropping a 4-1 decision.

The honors went on for the Lady Lions, however, as they had the nations top ranked scoring attack with 2.92 goals per game. Senior midfielder Christie Nairn and junior forward Maya Hayes were named NSCAA First Team All-Americans. Nairn went on to be named the Big 10 midfielder of the year and an all Big Ten selection for the fourth straight year. Look for the Lions, returning a wealth of talent to produce a stellar year in 2013.

Bisons have great year

At the scholastic level, one regional team that was overlooked for a tremendous accomplishment was the Bedford Bisons boys soccer squad. They compiled a 21-2 record under head coach Rick Calhoun, captured the District 5 championship for the third straight year while recording 13 shutouts by goalie James Jeffries. Jeffries shut out two top teams in the state playoffs en route to a semifinal appearance at states, where the Bisons dropped a tough 3-1 decision to Lancaster Mennonite.

BG's McGhee excels

On the girls scholastic front , the season ended incredibly for Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic freshman Alyssa McGhee who garnered a record 59 goals and 17 assists, first team Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference honors, first-team Mirror All Star recognition, and third-team all state honors. Teammate Maria Ruggery also copped first-team LHAC honors and first-team Mirror all star recognition.

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