It isn’t hard to know where the soccer ball is during an Evergreen Pee Wee soccer game.
Though it may not be seen in the mass of brightly-colored shirts, it’s there.
And not all the kids are trying to kick it.
“Are we allowed to use our feet?” asked Thad Widmer, organizer of the Evergreen Kids Pee Wee soccer program.
“Nooooo … Yessssss,” answered a group of children.
“Are we allowed to use our hands?” he asked next.
“Nooooo,” the children chorused.
On a sunny Saturday, close to 70 kids ages three to five gather around Widmer west of Haynes Field in Hamilton before playing soccer.
“What’s the most important thing about pee wee soccer?” Widmer asked the group.
“Have fun!” they replied.
Some pick flowers. Some wander around. Most can be found huddled around a soccer ball kicking it, or sometimes picking it up, en masse on a field.
“It’s about having fun and giving them an experience of an organized sport and a sense of accomplishment,” Widmer said of the program. “I’m just glad that we’re doing it and I’m glad that Evergreen Kids Corner is able to provide a need in the valley that we didn’t originally have.”
Though he is not a soccer player himself, Widmer, a former YMCA program director, tried to spearhead a pee wee soccer program in the past.
“At the time we only had about 20 to 25 kids,” Widmer said.
Wanting his four-year-old son, Emerson, to get involved, Widmer decided to start up a program again.
“I wanted him to be able to have that experience of playing soccer in that sort of environment,” Widmer said. “I decided I should run this through a different organization. I thought it would be a good way to try and raise money.”
Through Evergreen Kids Corner, the program kicked off April 25. It cost $45 per child.
“We have 67 kids and originally I thought I would only have 20 to 25,” Widmer said. “It’s been great … It got a little bigger than I originally wanted but it’s worked out well.”
Each week, the kids gather for 45 minutes in eight different teams to scrimmage or work on skill development.
While four of the teams scrimmage in two simultaneous games, the other groups work on skills.
After 20 minutes, Widmer blows a whistle and switches the groups.
“It’s pretty easy as far as kick the ball into the goal, dribble and pass,” Widmer said. “For a kid, it’s a pretty easy concept to grasp.”
Whether on the Blue Dragons, the Orange Crush, the Yellow Basketballs, the Purple People Eaters or Big Red, each kid has the number one on the back of their shirt.
“It’s just skill development and self-esteem building,” Widmer said.
Though some players tend to pick flowers or wander off during game time, Widmer takes it upon himself to see that all the kids are getting involved.
“I take it upon myself if I see a kid not participating to go in there and see if I can interact,” Widmer said.
And he has help.
The coaches of the eight teams include parents, volunteers and Hamilton High School players.
“I’ve played soccer since I was really little and I just wanted to help these kids get into something active,” said Shelby Needles, a senior Bronc soccer player. “I like just being with the kids and getting them outside and active.”
Eleven-year-old Olivia Kern and her brother also volunteer as coaches.
“We just love kids and we love helping out,” she said.
Widmer is quick to praise his volunteers.
“The volunteers have been great,” Widmer said. “I have a series of skills that I want the high school kids and the volunteers to run through. However they do it is fine with me as long as the kids are having a good time.”
Rebekah Stamp said her four-year-old son Andrew is having a blast with the program.
“He loves it,” she said. “I just wanted to expose him to sports and expose him to a healthy lifestyle. Like Thad said, it’s all about having fun and also getting involved in the community and letting my children know that’s important.”
Five-year-old Hannah Fluckiger plays on the green team with her twin three-year old sisters Emily and Lauren.
“I like that there’s a lot of kids here I know but most of them are on different colored teams,” Hannah said.
“I like kicking balls,” Emily said.
Widmer has plans to continue the pee wee program staying with the young ages.
“I do plan on running this again,” Widmer said. “I have so much fun. I’d run it a little differently but would take as many kids as registered. I don’t want to run a six, seven and eight program because I don’t want to compete. There’s not a whole lot for three to five year olds to do.”
At the end of the 45 minutes, all the groups gather around Widmer like in the beginning to end the day.
“Did everybody have fun?” he asked.
“Yessssss!” was the resounding reply.
Staff reporter Stacey Lishok can be reached at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.