As the Portage/Poynette co-op boys and girls soccer teams, the United work in concert with one another during the fall and spring prep seasons.
Outside of those campaigns however, Portage and Poynette have largely been on their own trying to drum up numbers and enthusiasm among their youth ranks.
While pulling on the same rope in different directions, United girls head coach Kathie Mayne wanted to try and bring all of the youth in the greater Portage area together on the pitch. Her work, along with that of husband, and new Portage/Poynette boys head coach, Cody Mayne, the Portage Youth Soccer Association, Poynette Youth Soccer and Portage Parks and Recreation was a smashing success as the group hosted the first-annual United Soccer Camp on Wednesday at the Portage Soccer Complex.
“We didn’t want it to just be put on by the high school (team), or Portage Youth Soccer or Parks and Recreation,” Kathie Mayne said. “Cody and I called the meeting together with all of the heads of Parks and Rec, PYSA and even Poynette Youth Soccer, and said ‘We want to have a big camp and it just be soccer.’”
“The high school is doing a lot of the ins-and-outs, but the turnout, we didn’t expect to be so big.”
That big turnout came in the form of 111 sign-ups, with roughly 100 showing up in-and-out throughout the day’s two sessions for kids as young as 4-years old to seniors in high school. The opening session of the day ran from 8 a.m. to noon for ages 4-14, with the group being broken into three smaller crowds in ages 4-6, 7-9 and 10-14.
Meanwhile, incoming freshmen and current high school students hit the pitch from 2-5 p.m.
On the docket for the day was a lot of basics at varying degrees of difficulty. Kathie Mayne said that with the youngest group, they focused a lot on the barebones of soccer and “enjoying soccer and making sure it’s fun.”
“Being coachable and what that means to listen, follow directions and doing your best. Then we just touched on dribbling techniques, passing and shooting with the younger groups,” she added.
The group of coaches, which also included PYSA coaches Carrie Spankowski and Marlena Cavanaugh, as well as volunteer Burt Cavanaugh, President of the PYSA, and a handful of student volunteers, got the younger groups going with lots of games as most attendees were kicking a soccer ball for the first time.
And in keeping things light, the younger kids got the chance to take a break with a snack and crafting period.
As for the elder portion of the morning group, they got the taste of what things may be like when they get to the prep ranks.
“We took on the same things that we needed to address because some of the people aren’t soccer players and they haven’t played but wanted to try it out,” Kathie Mayne said, noting the group’s level of experience.
“So we needed to address the basics of shooting, passing and dribbling, but we took it a step up like ‘Here’s what we expect when you step into high school soccer. Here’s what we’re going to do.’”
“We really hit the baseline on that for them and they seemed to be doing really, really well with it.”
Things ratcheted up a bit for the high school group later in the afternoon, which also got help from United assistant coaches Dan Rolling, Dwayne Richards and Sarah Heitmeier. The group worked on more in-depth ball handling and dribbling skills, as well as passing and shooting with just a bit more speed and pace.
Both groups closed out their respective sessions with intrasquad scrimmages to put their freshly learned skills to use. For Kathie Mayne, it was rewarding seeing the vast number of both boys and girls participating throughout both sessions.
The steep participation numbers have also been on display during the United’s weekly open kickarounds at the Portage Soccer Complex on Sundays from 6-8 p.m. Kathie Mayne said that unlike the traditional 10-person turnouts of years past, the group has had around 45 show up.
The numbers have ballooned for the United boys as well, who have garnered 40 sign-ups ahead of their season-opening practice on Aug. 16. The solid turnouts has Kathie Mayne confident the community can truly become a soccer hub.
“I think it’s showing the community that we’re taking soccer seriously and giving more opportunities,” she said. “I think seeing this many people show up from the youth, at a young age like this — they’re leaving with a free soccer ball and t-shirt — we’re giving them a ball and they’re going to go play.
“Other people are going to see they’re playing soccer, they’re going to develop a love of soccer and we’re going to grow our program from the ground up.”
The resounding success of Wednesday’s inaugural camp was thanks in large part to a bevy of sponsors, including PHS United Soccer; Forward Madison FC; Portage Parks and Rec; Culver’s; A&W; State Farm Insurance Agent Sean Malone; Goldthorpe Family Eye Care; Galley Studio; Gretchen Willis Photography and General Engineering.
Kathie Mayne is hoping to make the camp an annual event, one that can be bolstered by kids spreading the word to their friends about getting out and trying soccer. It’s certainly the collective mission of both the PYSA and Poynette Youth Soccer.
“We’ve all been trying to take tiny sections by ourselves and that’s why we haven’t seen a big, successful soccer community,” she said. “By coming together, we’re able to have those different sessions but still be like ‘This is our main goal together. We’re not competing, we’re working on soccer together.’”
For those interested in participating in youth soccer this fall for the PYSA, check out their website at portageyouthsoccer.org.