SYCAMORE – Jeff Sherman had just signed his kids up for the American Youth Soccer Organization, or AYSO, when he got “the dreaded phone call,” asking if he would help coach.
Sherman had played other sports, but knew nothing about soccer.
“So I got some books the week before our first game,” he said. “As a coach, I learned from the kids and they learned from me.”
Sherman, who has been involved with AYSO since 1986, shared that story at last Thursday’s Brown Bag Lunch, hosted by the Sycamore History Museum in honor of AYSO’s 50th anniversary. What started out as a father’s promise to his children has since grown into a community phenomenon.
“Saturday morning soccer is a long tradition in Sycamore,” Sycamore History Museum Executive Director Michelle Donahoe said. “Just go out to the park district soccer fields from August through October and you will see hundreds of children participating in soccer and just as many parents cheering them on throughout the day.”
According to Linda Liszka, who has been involved with AYSO for 32 years, the international program began in a California garage in 1964 with nine teams and 124 kids. AYSO has since expanded to more than 60,000 participants nationwide.
Liszka said the local program began when one of the original volunteers, Lyle Smith, moved to DeKalb in 1978. Living up to a promise he made to his children, Smith formed an AYSO program in DeKalb. Liszka said Sycamore children played in DeKalb until they had so many participants – about 1,200 – they started their own program in the early 1980s.
This past season, which runs from the start of the school year to the Pumpkin Festival, there were more than 700 children on 65 teams in Sycamore. Sycamore’s regional commissioner, Steve Saptia, said most matches are played on the Sycamore Park District’s 11 fields on Airport Road on Saturday mornings.
One of the biggest draws of AYSO, Liszka said, is the policy that allows everyone to play.
“Not everyone gets to play in other sports,” she said.
Saptia said camaraderie and sportsmanship are also key trademarks. During an early match in Hampshire, Sherman said his team, which was 2-44-2 at the time, was losing 19-1 when one of his players scored a goal. The team drenched him with Gatorade in celebration of the first time they had scored twice in the same game.
“Our kids have fun,” said Sherman, who refers to losses as finishing second.
“We get paid in smiles,” his wife, Kathy Sherman, another long-time volunteer, said.