Despite the very best attempts by winter to halt spring sports, the opening of spring soccer play for all leagues is set to roll.
The travel leagues are packed this spring season, and this turnout of teams and players for the travel season is reflected in the Altoona Soccer Club's numbers. The Altoona Club, under the leadership of Eric Haugh, has 14 travel teams registered for spring play, ranging from U-10s in age to U-19s. The U-10s are stacked with young players looking to step up to the travel and competitive ranks, with the club registering three girls U-10 teams alone for the PA West soccer play.
In total, they have 176 players registered for Division 5 Sunday travel leagues, Division 4 leagues playing into Pittsburgh and West Virginia, and a U-16 classic squad traveling to all parts of the state and outside Pennsylvania for weekend play. This is a huge jump from the many years when the club would field perhaps only five or six teams in total for the travel season. Tyrone also has registered teams to be active in spring play under the Altoona Club.
The various clubs in the Mountain District, where Altoona and Hollidaysburg play, are working together to share players in an effort to have a classic team at every age level. For instance, the TC Vipers, a Clearfield classic team, has Hollidaysburg girls on their roster. The Altoona AC United 96 is made up of girls from Altoona, Hollidaysburg, State College, DuBois, Moshannon Valley, Tyrone and Clearfield, representing 10 different high schools in our area. The Hollidaysburg Krew is also a classic U-15 girls soccer team heavy with talent. A number of Division 4 teams are trying to work their way into classic play by finishing in the top two within their Division 4 age bracket.
All of this interest, however, has magnified the age old problem of available field space for home games. Teams simply just don't have enough fields in our area to play on, and as a result, get few if any home games. The Altoona Area High School Intramural field was used heavily for at least three home games every Sunday, however, it has been knocked out of commission because the turf is being re-surfaced and is unavailable. Mansion Park is only available about half of the weekends during spring play because of other high school commitments for the track. Leopold Field in Greenwood is OK for use of smaller field U-10 games, but is almost unusable for older full field games because the south end is very swampy nearly all of the time.
The Altoona Area Junior High field would be perfect for play, but until now it has been out of bounds to the clubs for spring games. Hopefully, this will change as the club is working with AAJHS principal Lori Mangan to allow weekend games for this spring and possibly weekday practices as well. Mangan had been very cooperative this past winter, allowing the Altoona girls soccer program to use the AAJHS gym during certain week nights to work on foot skills and conditioning. Being able to use the AAJHS field would be a huge step in the right direction of solving the issue of where to fit in home games for area teams.
Penn State Altoona's Spring Run Stadium would also be another great option.
n Local clubs have also begun using many of their available regional sources of help in the area of improving coaching skills. Hollidaysburg has been working with Marcello Antonelli and Bryce Cooper of St. Francis to aid their teams, Altoona is again using the many talents of Penn State Altoona men's coach Maurice Taylor to work with their teams, and Lisa Cole of the Boston Breakers has had Altoona girls to her practices.
n It is also a very positive note to report that the new buyers of the Blair County nursing home at Valley View plans to leave the AYSO soccer fields intact for the hundreds of young players who utilize them every year. This averted a huge crisis as no other area or field space could accommodate this number of players.
n The indoor play for adults keeps rolling as soccer director at the Summit, Mike Alianiello, has been able to form a men's spring indoor league.
n Central Cambria High School is seeking a new head coach for its varsity girls soccer program and hopes to have that individual in place by the early part of April.
Tom Schmitt's soccer column runs monthly in the Mirror.