BY ANDREAS BUTLER
After a seven-year hiatus, youth soccer returns to Daytona Beach. The city’s Cultural & Leisure Services Department is rebooting the program.
Instructional clinics began on Monday and are set to run from Monday through Wednesday 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Derbyshire Sports Complex, 849 Derbyshire Road. The clinics are for ages 4 to 12 years old.
At the same time, the city is struggling to find players for its youth baseball program after two weeks of instructional clinics.
Baseball instructional clinics take place at Bethune Point at 11 Bellevue Ave. Mondays through Friday from 5:30 to 8 p.m. for ages 7-12.
T-Ball clinics also are ongoing at Derbyshire Sports Complex Monday through Wednesday from 5:30-7 p.m. as well for ages 4-6.
Kids want soccer
There is an interest for soccer.
“We used to have a soccer program a few years ago, but the kids lost interest. We are bringing back soccer because there are a lot of kids interested. We want to be able to provide this service for the kids,’’ said Terry Johnson, recreation specialist for Cultural & Leisure Services.
Meanwhile, baseball interest in the city has not really caught on.
“This is our second season back during this stint. Last year, we were able to interleague with other leagues. Our numbers have been down with kids just not coming out. We do the best that we can as far as marketing the program the right way,” responded Johnson.
Area soccer teams
The rise in soccer’s popularity can be seen all across the United States. Professional and semi-pro leagues are having success.
There are also successful franchises locally with the Orlando City Soccer Lions in Major League Soccer, the Orlando Pride in the National Women’s Soccer League, and Orlando City B in the United Soccer League.
Daytona State College started its men’s and women’s soccer programs in 2016.
A new United Soccer League 2 franchise at Daytona State College begins play in 2019 with home games at Daytona Stadium.
“Soccer is growing in popularity even with the youth. You see it among other countries with many of their immigrants coming to the United States. Soccer is cultural with these immigrants and they are bringing it here even to our community. It’s also a sport that anyone can play,” noted Johnson.
Meanwhile, baseball could not be catching on in Daytona for various reasons including economics, culture, demographics, race.
There is also competition with other sports for players such as 8-on-8 football and track and field.
There could also be competition with other municipalities youth baseball programs such as Ormond Beach, South Daytona and Port Orange.
The city rebooted its youth baseball program last year and its T-ball program in 2017.
The city had youth baseball from 2008 through 2014 after the sport was absent for 10 years.
Daytona Beach has a high population of African-American kids who participate in its youth athletics. They like others across the country are more attracted to the sports of football and baseball.
The city also has successful youth football and basketball programs.
‘A tough game’
Major League Baseball rosters are less than 8 percent African American today compared to 19 percent in 1981 and 27 percent in the mid 1970s.
Leisure and Cultural Services personnel still believe that they can have a successful program.
Johnson explained, “The lack of a baseball culture is a yes and no answer in regards to struggling to get players. There is a lack of interest in the Black community as compared to back in the day.
“Also, football and basketball has the interest of most of the kids. Baseball is also a tough game to play. It’s a game where you must work on your skills just about every day.”
Benefits of sports
More can be done to attract kids to the game at every level.
“When we were growing up, we were exposed to the game. There was always someone who played or knew how to play. We also played some kind of stick ball, softball or something. Kids just aren’t seeing that nowadays. We must continue to find ways to introduce them to the game,’’ Johnson related.
Regardless, there are benefits to playing both soccer and baseball.
Johnson emphasized, “Sports teach teamwork, character building, sportsmanship, leadership and interacting with others. Both baseball and soccer have international appeal. They also introduce kids to other cultures. Playing youth baseball and soccer helps you learn the games and get ready to play them at the travel ball and high school levels.”