It's a familiar battle amongst all youth sports. The kids and coaches (and parents) that really take the sport seriously and play very competitively and tirelessly versus the kids and coaches (and parents) that just want to play for the fun of it.
Then the board members of these youth sports groups try to balance the two directions and, at times, no one seems to be satisfied with how their league is operated.
There's no sport that doesn't deal with this dilemma. Unfortunately, it often causes divisions and hard feelings amongst their members. At times it's expected. But, that’s the nature of the beast when it comes to organizing competitive athletics.
This kind of edgy situation has been brewing amongst Elk Grove's largest youth sports organization, Elk Grove Youth Soccer League (EGYSL), for a while. EGYSL has ruled the roost, so to speak, in the city when it came to soccer. Though they have several neighborhood clubs organize teams and take registrations in their region of Elk Grove, EGYSL has always held the fort overall. They have hundreds of recreational teams, select squads and even manage a traveling competitive organization, FC Elk Grove.
EGYSL, claiming more than 6,000 participants, has grown to a $3 million operation complete with leased office space and full-time staff. They've been soccer to the city of Elk Grove.
But, finally a few members said they didn’t like the overall direction of EGYSL, had enough and decided to begin their own soccer organization.
And, their goal: to just teach the sport of soccer to young people and have fun. Throw out the scoreboard. Let's just kick the ball around the field and let the kids have a blast.
Thus, the creation of the Elk Grove Recreational Soccer League (EGRSL).
"We dis-affiliated for the right reasons, we organized for the right reasons," EGRSL president John Hatzis said. "We're not for-profit, every dime we've put into this has been for the kids. We've got no political intentions. We're doing this for the kids."
Behind the leadership of Hatzis, Amber Hammond and a handful of volunteers, EGRSL is just a few weeks away from formation of teams, selection of coaches and the first practices.
And they'll have their hands full. Hatzis says they already have more than 800 kids signed up to play under their banner this fall.
Hatzis says because of their league's creation, "soccer has once again become affordable in Elk Grove."
Last year, EGYSL registration was $130 per child, according to Hatzis, with late registration an additional $25. EGRSL is asking $99 per player. EGYSL has likewise lowered its cost to the same amount.
"Competition and a choice of (leagues) has helped everybody," Hatzis said.
Getting to this point hasn't been without a struggle. After the formation of the league in December, EGYSL came calling asking for its gear back. EGRSL, which sprout primarily from the Elk Grove Soccer Club, gave it back, perhaps a little naive thinking some of the balls, nets and equipment could be had.
But not long after EGRSL received its non-profit status in February and announced it would begin play this fall, it was hit by a legal challenge. EGYSL claimed the infant organization was using market to a list of past soccer registrants that was EGYSL’s. A suit was filed against EGRSL claiming the use of that list would equal stealing a trade secret owned by EGYSL.
Hatzis says an injunction that was placed on his league that could have perhaps delayed the start of operations this fall was overturned May 22 by a judge in oral arguments.
"We acquired that list from all over," Hatzis claimed. "EGYSL is claiming ownership of everything. We have been notifying people of a new league, holding walk-up registrations, had a booth at Elk Grove Youth Baseball's opening day, we had a booth at the Western Festival, we've been all over the place. We're just out there for the community."
The actual suit, Hatzis says, will be heard in court sometime in 2016.
Another roadblock EGRSL had faced was a big one - the acquisition of soccer fields for practice and play. The divvying up of outdoor sports facilities has for a long time been the job of the Elk Grove Youth Sports Association. Hatzis says EGRSL, for a while, wasn't even allowed membership into the group, claiming that members of the elder soccer league were also controlling the board of EGYSA.
On June 8, they were finally brought into the fold at EGYSA and now they'll be assigned soccer fields maintained by either CSD or the Elk Grove School District.
"The right thing has been done although it was a bit more difficult than we would have liked it to be," Hatzis said.
The single focus of recreational soccer has become popular to others outside of Elk Grove. Southgate Youth Soccer will operate under the EGRSL banner in the fall.
Plus, they've taken on the EGYSL model of neighborhood clubs to manage the teams in their region of Elk Grove. There will be the Elk Grove Thundering Herd Soccer Club, the Pleasant Grove Eagles Soccer Club, the Calvine Soccer Club, the West Elk Grove Soccer Club and the Cosumnes Oaks Soccer Club all under EGRSL's banner.
Hatzis thinks they'll always remain a reck organization. However, for their players that do want to step it up and play on the competitive level, EGRSL has formed a partnership with IR Academy, a comp league that practices on the sunken soccer field facility at Cosumnes River College and at nearby Shasta Park.
"They are going to provide coaches and players' clinics, coaching resource," Hatzis said. "It's a good partnership. They are really in it for the kids."
On their website, EGRSL specifically states IR Academy won't have anything to do with the management of their soccer organization.
"IR Academy will not manage EGRSL, nor be involved with anything regarding cost or fee structure," it is written on the EGRSL website. "Unlike other soccer league, IR Academy will not manage EGRSL."
Plus, U.S. Club Soccer, which covers the league’s liability and medical insurance, sanctions EGRSL.