Established in 1983, the North Toronto Soccer Club has served community in providing after school, spring and summer soccer leagues for children in the area. But with their enrollment increasing every year from 500 soccer players in 1983 to 2,200 this season, the club is finding it hard to grow in the community.
“This year was a nightmare for us in juggling and canceling games,” Doug Gillan, the director of operations for the soccer club said. “We are just stymied by not having enough fields.”
While the club has grown tremendously since it’s inception by adding new teams and raising the age level gradually they have sought other soccer fields to accommodate their growth. North Toronto Soccer now uses Eglinton Park and Forest Hill Memorial Park as their core fields, and adding to those the fields of some of schools in the area, whenever they are made available.
“We sat down with the people from the school board last fall and thought they were saying ‘yes, we have those fields,’ ” Gillan said. “We added new teams and we counted on those field permits and one by one they evaporated. There is no very true dialogue with them right now. We are willing to help financially in the maintenance of these fields and we need to get a dialogue going.”
With 2,200 kids enrolled and playing soccer in the club’s 15 divisions, there was only one division without a registered waiting list. Many of the divisions had anywhere between 50 and 70 kids registered on the waiting list with fields sitting there unused.
“There’s hundreds of other kids that saw the waiting list and didn’t even bother filling out an application. We do not want to solicit more kids just to go on waiting lists,” Gillan said. “We are really, this year, trying to get something done. One way or the other we want to give them (the school board) an opportunity to have a dialogue and say yes or no.”
At a time when schools find themselves under funded and cutting after school programs, Gillan finds it perplexing that a youth recreational non-profit organization with more than 75 per cent of its participants from the local community can’t seem to get the permits they need, especially when they are willing to chip in financially in the maintenance of the fields.
In fact when the league started out and the fields were yet to be aerated a group of parents went out to the fields with their shovels and took care of it themselves.
“We have almost 400 coaches in the club including assistants that are all volunteers,” Gillan said of the clubs popularity in the community. “Over a weekend in the spring I wouldn’t be surprised if we got two to three thousand people out at the games.”
While the club has grown it has seen its former players come back as coaches and referees, helping to increase the quality of soccer in the area. For many years the coaches of the teams have been parents and volunteers that have not grown up with soccer but have learned it as they were coaching and their kids were playing. What the club expects is that soon the next generation of kids, that grew up with soccer will be taking over as the coaches and furthering the development and growth of soccer in the area. After all, soccer is the most popular youth recreational sport in the world.
“Our aim is not only to provide this activity and participation in the community but to teach the sport to the community,” Gillan said. “We can offer all girls soccer house league from five years old to 16 years old. Not too many other leagues or sports can offer that. We have 54 all girls teams.”
The spring league for the North Toronto Soccer club came to an end on June 23 with the summer session about to commence.
“We really want to start applying community pressure here because we can’t do our planning,” Gillan stated of the task ahead when the summer season ends. “We have to find some way to make these fields available as a community. We are there to provide a really good program, just give us the fields.”
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