Young soccer players in Columbia Falls will soon be getting another chance to hone their skills this fall as the town will host several new middle-school age teams.
Comprised of teams from Columbia Falls, Whitefish, Kalispell, Plains, Polson, Libby and Frenchtown, the new northwest Montana league aims to provide an affordable alternative to expensive travel teams while giving players in fifth through eighth grade the chance to gain valuable competitive soccer experience before reaching high school.
“My wife and I decided after last season that C-Falls needed to find a way to get C-Falls kids an affordable way to play competitive games before they got to high school,” CFHS head boys soccer coach and league organizer O’Brien Byrd said. “The U.S. has taken this pay-to-play model and it has priced out stars who we will never see or get to know because it costs thousands of dollars for them to play travel soccer any many families just can’t afford that.”
According to Byrd, travel teams in the area have been charging as much as $550 per player to join their leagues and forced parents to drive hundreds of miles for games across the state, but the new middle school league will keep prices down and practices and games local. For $100, players in the new fall league will receive two jerseys and the chance to play in games during the week and on Saturdays.
With the assistance of the Flathead United, a local soccer club, Byrd helped to organize a successful youth league for sixth through eighth graders this spring as interest in the sport appears to be growing in the area.
Byrd, who won four state titles while coaching in Whitefish, hopes that the new league will help to continue the growth of soccer in Columbia Falls and lead to more experienced players taking the field for the Wildcats in the future.
“If I get one or two competitive, experienced players a year in Columbia Falls, that is a good year here. Many have recreational soccer experience, but they have not played competitively,” he said.
According to Byrd, the junior high years are the most important for athletes learning how to play sports and the new league may be just the boost the Columbia Falls soccer program is looking for.
“We are teaching them the same principles and philosophies with the same level of expectation we have at the high school. That way, when they get to high school, they are ready to play,” he said. While the fall league games will be competitive, Byrd said the most important thing is that the players have fun.
“This way, we get to teach kids soccer and have fun doing it. It’s competitive, but not the same expectations as high school soccer,” he said. “It’s a great way to get competitive experience without all of the pressure.”
Registration for the fall middle school league ends Aug. 16 and the season will run from Sept. 7 through Oct. 26. For more information, visit http://www.flatheadrapids.com/middle-school-cf.