The Major League Soccer season kicked off earlier this month, but you don’t need to leave the neighborhood to get a glimpse at the future of the sport.
Over 400 children crammed into Bushwick Inlet Park, on Saturday, April 9th, for the opening day of the Greenpoint/Williamsburg Youth Soccer League (GWYSL) spring season. The GWYSL, a non-profit, all-volunteer program is now in its 13th year of operation, and Director Alan Hill says the league has become so successful that it has morphed into an all-city organization.
“We have kids from all over Brooklyn and even a few from areas of Queens like Jackson Heights and Maspeth,” said Hill. “We unfortunately lose some of the Orthodox Jewish kids because the league is on Saturday, but the turnout has still been great for this year.”
The GWYSL utilizes McCarren Park for its fall season, but space is at a premium during the spring. The schedule for the league is tightly run, with hour-long shifts divided up based on age groups. Each game consists of a brief warm-up followed by 40 minutes of competitive play. For children under the age of 5, fun drills and games are set up in order to give them the basic skills needed to eventually play a real game of soccer.
Hill says that the GWYSL adheres to the principles of the American Youth Soccer Organization in order to provide the best experience possible for all players.
“We make sure that every child gets to play at some point, and we don’t keep score or stats during the games so that winning isn’t the main focus,” said Hill.
The GWYSL has had a history of producing some of the best soccer players in New York City. Hill says that several people who have come through the program have gone on to play in teams that are part of the Elite Clubs National League.
Many of these same athletes also received scholarships initially in order to play in the GWYSL. Although membership for the season is $70, Hill says that the fee is reduced for families who are unable to afford it.
“We don’t check financial history, or anything like that, when people ask for scholarships,” sad Hill. “All we ask of them is to write a letter. Less than five percent of families who are with us actually utilize the scholarship, so we hope that’s something more families start to take advantage of.”
Hills says that the league has grown in membership every year, arguably a direct result of the gentrification throughout Williamsburg and Greenpoint, and the young families who are moving into the neighborhood.
“We had around 20 four-year-olds in the program a few years ago, but that number has moved up to 60 this year. We’re still in need of girls to play in the league though, and we’re hoping to have all-girl soccer matches at some point in the future.”
The season is being dedicated to Ranjit Grewal, the former head of GWYSL who passed way in late 2010. Hill says that a tree will be planted in his honor at Bushwick Inlet Park, and that old soccer equipment from the season will be donated to a village in Sierra Leone.
For more information about the GWYSL, visit their website at GWYSL.com