With the World Cup in full swing this year, people around the world are tuning in to see their nations’ best compete on soccer’s biggest stage. As young people watch, dreams begin. Closer to home, the Amsterdam Youth Soccer Club (AYSC), is now in it’s 25th season of helping boys and girls of all ages live the dream of playing on a soccer team.
The AYSC began in 1990 with four teams consisting of 60 youths participating in a travel league program. The club’s founders Larry Riley and Michele Tomlinson and groups of dedicated volunteers throughout the years helped the sport to take hold in Amsterdam. Along the way, the organization helped increase soccer’s popularity in the area and contributed to the formation of new teams in area schools as well. Over the years, the AYSC developed soccer into a year round sport for many youths as travel and recreation teams sprouted up in every season. A quarter of a century later, soccer is still kicking in Amsterdam, and stronger than ever.
“This year we have more kids and we have a lot of good coaches,” said AYSC President Ziggy Ziobro, currently in his second year at the helm and sixth year overall. “We have 280 kids in just the (Spring) recreation program and 80-85 kids in the travel program.”
Currently, the AYSC has five age groups for children in the travel program: under 8, under 10, under 12, under 14, and under 17 and four age groups in the recreation program: under 6, under 8, under 10 and under 13. There is also a group called Soccer Mites for children 3-5 years old. Those age groups have had consistent numbers through the decades since the AYSC first began.
The AYSC offered its first spring recreation program in 1995. The travel program would see a boost in registration the following year with more than 150 children participating in the travel program with 10 teams in three divisions of the Capital District Youth Soccer League (CDYSL). Seven of those teams would finish in third place or higher in their respective divisions. The dedication and commitment of the players, parents, coaches and volunteers who put in the time to conduct registration, create uniforms, find referees and sponsors, coordinate schedules and get kids to the practices and games showed the true heart of the AYSC, and the results would be seen in future AYSC programs and in area high schools as well.
It was in August 20, 1997 that the Amsterdam High School Lady Rams soccer team discovered that the numbers were there to support a team at each level of the school program.
“I didn’t know until this morning that I would have enough for a junior varsity team,” said former AHS varsity girls soccer coach Michelle Tomlinson in an August 1997 interview with The Free Press of the Mohawk Valley.
That first junior varsity team was coached by Rich Monroe, who coached an under 10 girls spring travel team in the AYSC. He would later take the helm of the varsity squad when Tomlinson stepped down. Monroe gave credit to the AYSC for making the AHS junior varsity team possible.
“This is a talented team with team oriented skills,” he said in an August 1997 Free Press interview. “Many of them have played soccer with the AYSC since they were six years old. I see them doing well. We’ll be up there for the lead in the Big Ten.”
Two years later, nine of the original 13 AHS girls soccer junior varsity players were part of a varsity team seeking its first Big Ten title. The previous year’s varsity team had finished 15-4 overall and had made its first sectional appearance in the school’s history. The 1999 squad would win the first of several Big Ten titles with a victory over rival Catholic Central 4-3, ending the Lady Crusaders 40 game Big Ten win streak. Players Stephanie Kruger, Amanda Stella, Jillian Moller, Kim Conway, Jen Colon and Amber Sainato were all players on that team who got their start in the AYSC.
“This is the first group through the AYSC, “ Monroe said in a 1999 Amster-Ram interview. “They are the first group to start as Soccer Buddies and proved they can be successful.”
The AYSC began a program in the 1990’s called Soccer Buddies which was the club’s youngest age division for children only four years old. In September 1997 the AYSC had 380 youths from ages four to 12 playing soccer. There were six Soccer Buddies teams with a total of 84 players, some of whom went on to play in school. Matt Constantine and Barb Green ran the program in 1997 with Anthony Constantine in charge of the older divisions and directing the Learn to Love Soccer clinic that the AYSC held in the Fall of that year.
“This is the largest group of soccer buddies we’ve ever had,” said Anthony Constantine in a September 1997 Free Press interview. “Everybody that tries out for soccer makes it. There are no cuts, no drafts and players aren’t picked because they are the best. Everybody gets to play.”
Some players who got their start in the AYSC returned to coach the Soccer Buddies teams in 1997. Robert and Christopher Hayes, Amanda and Rich Stella, Monica Kruger, Maghan Spagnola, Cherisse Constantine, Adam and JD Fetterly, and Kyle and Ryan Harrington all returned to coach.
“After all the AYSC gave to me, I felt I should give something back to them,” said Robert Hayes in a September 1997 Free Press interview. Hayes along with Adam Fetterly were part of an AHS boys team that grew up in the AYSC and would later make its mark in Big 10 play. Members of the AHS girls team would return as instructors as well.
“I do it because of the kids,” said Amanda Stella in a 1997 Free Press interview. “I really like to coach soccer and my brother helps out to.”
Soccer Buddies learned the fundamentals of the game including “eye to foot” drills from instructors who had played the game since they were young, giving them a solid foundation for the sport while having fun at the same time.
“We’re here for the kids to have fun,” said directors Constantine and Green in a 1997 Free Press interview. “The league is run like a camp with an emphasis on how you play not winning or losing.”
That spirit of good sportsmanship took on an international form on August 10, 1996 when the AYSC hosted the Friendship Cup and teamed up with Project Children to give eight youths from Northern Ireland a chance to play soccer in the United States. AYSC founder Larry Riley was the area coordinator for Project Children. Nine children who were part of host families teamed up with the eight children from Northern Ireland to form one team while members of the AYSC made up the other coached by Michele Tomlinson. The night was about friendship and good spirited competition.
“Well it’s warm and it’s been good fun,” said Johnathan O’ Hare of Newry County Down, Ireland in a 1996 Amsterdam Morning Star interview. O’ Hare had been playing soccer since he was four years old.
The AYSC continued to create new ways to boost participation. Travel teams would begin playing indoors at winter tournaments held in Clifton Park and Waterford. Today, the AYSC has teams participating in soccer at Afrim’s Sports complex in Colonie.
The AYSC continued to grow into the 21st century and by the year 2011 more than 400 youths were participating in its program. The youngest were getting a start in a Soccer Mites program for children 3-4 years old which is similar to the successful Soccer Buddies program. The AYSC continues to rely heavily on its volunteers and fundraisers to ensure its programs are there for the next generation.
There are more goals that its current league officers would like to accomplish.
“I would like to see the league have its own property with a clubhouse,” said Ziobro, adding “The school district helps us out a lot when we apply for the fields.” He also said, “We would like to have more people that want to get involved with the program. We would like to do a tournament…and get the community involved.”
The AYSC continues to emphasize fun and good sportsmanship in its programs. Community involvement is still crucial as everything from coaching to running the concession stand is done by volunteers. With the right amount of positive support, the goals for the future of the AYSC are certainly within reach. Twenty five years since it began, the AYSC is there not just for those dreaming of someday playing in school or beyond, but for every child that wants to play.
(Photos by Scott Mulford)