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Youth Soccer League Offering Competitive Opportunity for High Schoolers
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
03:52AM / Friday, September 11, 2020
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — As a dad, Stephen Nesbit knows how difficult the COVID-19 pandemic has been for youngsters.
As an officer in the North Adams Soccer Club, he can do something about it.
"I'm a father, I have a 9-year-old and a 16-year-old," Nesbit said on Thursday morning. "Kids have been trapped in the house since March. They want to get out and run around with their friends. We're giving them a responsible option for that."
The NASC and its corresponding youth groups throughout the county are working to put together competitive opportunities for players of all ages, up to and including high schoolers, who likely will not have the chance to represent their schools in varsity games this fall.
Under the auspices of the Berkshire County Youth Soccer League, organizers are hoping to get as many as 11 boys and girls high school-aged teams on the pitch for an abbreviated season of Sunday games.
For high school students at schools that are offering practice-only soccer programs this fall, the county league will offer the possibility of some competition on the side. And for kids in districts that are not offering the sport until at least the MIAA's "Fall 2" season in March, the youth programs will give them their only opportunity to get out and work on their skills.
The intent is not to make students choose either high school or "travel" sports, explained Matt Naventi, the president of BCYSL who also happens to coach the varsity boys at Monument Mountain.
"It's certainly a collaboration," Naventi said. "They're not choosing one over the other."
Nesbit said the youth leagues were watching closely what the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association decided about the 2020-21 sports calendar and how local districts reacted before moving forward with a plan.
With all the county's schools appearing to hold off on competitive soccer until at least the Fall 2 season, the BCYSL decided to fill the gap.
And its member leagues helped fill other gaps, Naventi said. With the Pittsfield Soccer Club opting not to have a fall season, the Williamstown Soccer Club and Lenox Youth Football Club have stepped in to make sure players from the city had the opportunity to register and be covered by insurance.
"I give a lot of credit to the clubs around the county for being willing and open-minded about how we approach the season," Naventi said. "We're looking to be as flexible as we possibly can and facilitate as many kids as we can."
And it will do so while implementing the modifications mandated by the state for safe play of soccer, classified as a "moderate risk" sport for the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Nesbit credited the Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association for outlining a clear path for local leagues and volunteer coaches.
"They have done a tremendous job of coming up with safety protocols and modifications to the rules of the game to make the game as safe as possible during this period of time we're living in," he said.
Naventi said there will be a countywide coaching meeting next week to go over the new rules.
"I think the lower down you go in the youth levels, the easier, in a way, it will be," he said. "There's not a tremendous amount of contact anyway [in younger age groups]. You can't head the ball in under-10 or under-12 in Berkshire County. The big one will be not picking up the ball, not touching it.
"That will be an added responsibility of coaches to not train the way you typically do the first week of practice but use that time to get the new rules in place."
Naventi said the BCYSL will hold U10 and U14 games on Saturdays this fall and U12 and high school games on Sunday.
It also is changing up its schedule for the younger age groups. Instead of playing a countywide schedule against six or seven opponents, the teams will be grouped into north and south regions and play each opponent in their divisions twice.
The high school teams will be divided into "North" and "South" divisions that mirror those used in the Berkshire County high school league, which breaks up schools into divisions that seek competitive balance, rather than geographic alignment.
Another big change in the scheduling this fall: None of the games will come in the form of the big youth tournaments that typically highlight the county's youth soccer schedule.
Nesbit says the pent-up demand for recreation in the pandemic has led to an uptick in registration for the youth program. He said the North Adams club is extending registration for its programs until the season is underway to make sure everyone gets a chance to sign up.
"There are a lot of good soccer players in North Adams, Williamstown and Adams," Nesbit said. "We want them to be able to get out and play if they can."
Register for the North Adams Soccer Club here. Find information on other youth programs throughout the county here.
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