Words by Richard Allen
Photography by LP Taylor Photography
LESLEY WALKER REMEMBERS WELL THE MANY ENJOYABLE TIMES SHE HAD PLAYING INTHE GRANBURY SOCCER ASSOCIATION AS A CHILD.
Now, she’s enjoying watching her own son and a plethora of other youngsters experience the same joy in the GSA, of which she is now president.
“From the time I was 5 until I was about 15 I played. It was always fun,” Lesley said, adding with a smile. “I grew up playing on the boys team.”
Lesley’s dad was a coach in the GSA when she played in the 1990s. The league has roots stretching back about four decades. Now, she is a coach herself, on two teams, a head coach on one (Under-13 BoysDynamite) and an assistant on another (U-5 Co-EdCrazy Monkeys) with her good friend and fellowGSA board member Rebecca Freeman.
“My dad was my coach, and now I coach my son(on the U-13 team). I’ll still run into kids, now adults, who ask how my dad is doing,” Lesley said. “We’ll always be kids.”
That philosophy is a big reason the GSA has with-stood the test of time. First and foremost it is about having fun. In fact, the U-5 and U-6 levels don’t even keep score and they don’t have goalkeepers.
These levels are known to many as “herd ball.” The name is derived from watching all the players run together, like a herd, toward a ball that one of them kicked down the field.
“I had to coach it for the first time in a while recently.I coach older kids mostly, so going down, it was nice,”said GSA Coaching Director Lauren Wright.
“That’s the best age,” GSA Facilities Director Amon Veron said. “They’re playing with bugs, looking around, when they’re not chasing a ball.”
But Amon said that while it may not always seem like it, the players at those ages are learning skills and tactics they will use as they grow older.
“My daughter is a perfect example. The first year she clung to my leg and didn’t know a lot about what to do, but then she worked at it and got better,” he said. “Now, she’s a really good player. Whether you think they’re learning something or not, they’re picking it up.
“I tell my players every night to just kick the ball around, get a feel for it. That’s true, no matter what age you are or how much you play. You can’t become too familiar with the ball.”
Rebecca added, “A lot of them, they watch their older siblings and they admire them – and they are paying attention and learning.”
Amon coaches his daughter, Maci, on the U-9 GirlsPink Panthers. It’s common for parents to coach their own children, not only in the GSA, but in many youth sports. Rebecca coaches her two sons, being an assistant on Braxton’s U-9 Boys Cobras and the head coach of the aforementioned U-5 Co-Ed Crazy Monkeys with Braydon.
In fact, the GSA prides itself on its strong family connections. Many players today have parents, likeLesley, who played themselves, and there are siblings, cousins, etc. who have come through or are currently in the league, which has almost 500 players for every season.
The league plays two seasons every year. The spring season is March through May, and the fall season is August through November. The younger teams play against each other and every player gets a trophy at season’s end, while the U-9 and above are more competitive and travel to face teams from other towns such as Stephenville, Weatherford, Mineral Wells and Burleson.
But competition never takes precedence over everyone enjoying themselves. The league has arule that all players at all levels must play at least half of every game.
“We don’t have any benchwarmers,” Rebecca said.
“You want that competitive drive, and you want them to want to succeed, but there’s no ‘win at all costs’ attitude,” Amon said.
“This is rec soccer. We don’t run up the score, ever,” Lesley said.
Every season, at the final practice, teams in the league hold a parents vs. kids scrimmage. It’s a very popular event.
“Those were the best times growing up,” Lesley said. “My dad used to do that with his team, and it was so much fun.”
The league is also loyal to its own. Logan Finker Field is named after the late official who was killed in an automobile accident. Their current fields, theBrady Brown Complex in Thorp Spring, is named after a former player who died in a car crash at age 17 in 1999.
And the John Oubre Jr. Memorial Soccer Tournament is named after a former player who was also killed in a car wreck in 1997 at age 17. It is one of two major tournaments they host each year, the other being the Lake Granbury Spring Classic.Both serve as the lone fundraisers the league has annually.
“Those are ways to say we miss them and we will always remember them,” Lesley said. “And the tournaments have been great for us and the city. They bring teams and a lot of families to town, who in turn spend money eating here, staying in the hotels, buying gas and shopping here. Each tournament has over 100 teams.”
While being a rec league, the GSA has had several players go on to play for Granbury High, which has over the years had one of the top high school soccer programs in North Texas. The Pirates, in fact, won the school’s lone team state championship in sports, capturing the 4A state title in 1999.
“If they want to play high school or college, competitive is certainly a way to go, but competitive can cost up to $2,000 per year,” Lesley said. “We’ve had several go on to play in high school, and some of our refs (in the GSA) are high school players.”
Amon added, “I’ve got a few I could see playing in college if they keep it up and keep progressing.”
The league annually hands out a pair of scholarships to a senior boy and girl to help them attend college, each being $500.
The cost of playing in the GSA is a uniform that can be used in more than one season, socks, and shoes, mostly. And players in the U-5 level even get a free soccer ball.
Another popular part of the league is the GSA allows players to continue playing on the same team as they grow older. For example, if players were on the same U-8 squad, they’d likely be on the same U-9 team as they advance to that level.
“I’ve had the same group of kids for seven years.Kids learn to work together and grow together.They go to each other’s houses, have birthday parties together,” Lesley said.
“I’ve got a girl on my team who technically could play U-8, but she wants to play with her friends, so she keeps playing up,” Amon said. “Her mom signs a waiver.”
Whether it’s players, parents or coaches, the bottom line is folks in the GSA have been having a great time for a long time.
“We have coaches who have as much fun as the kids,” Amon said.
“Without the board members and the volunteers, the Association wouldn’t last,” Rebecca said.”And we do not get paid a dime for what we do. It’s hard work, but we all do it because we love it. And that’s why we keep coming back.