Free Greater Victoria soccer program overflowing with applicants

Kids are playing soccer on fields all over Greater Victoria, but not many are playing for free. In a groundbreaking move to open the sport to everyone wanting to kick a ball, the Lakehill Soccer Association is offering a no-cost spring league for youth ages under-8 to under-15.

The program is already overflowing, with 248 young players registered, and many more on a waiting list.

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“Every spot we had got snatched up right away,” Lakehill president David del Castillo said.

“This is hopefully just the inaugural program, with many more years to come.”

Del Castillo is the founder and a director of the Alma Libre Futbol Association, which has a goal of providing free soccer for youth players. Armed with his knowledge of government grants, Lakehill was able to obtain a B.C. Gaming Grant to fund the free league.

“B.C. still boasts the highest youth poverty rate in Canada, and even in Victoria it is pretty alarming. A number of kids can’t afford to play,” del Castillo said, noting how the cost of fees, equipment and training can add up. “Youth sport is a bit of a cottage industry, which is perfectly fine in my eyes, but hopefully, there will be a place for everyone.”

Certainly, many youngsters are helped out by organizations such as KidSport, but the free league is different in that’s it’s open to anyone, without the paperwork of proving financial need. Lakehill families had first dibs on registering, then it was first come first served.

“We want to connect with First Nations, the Immigrant and Refugee Society, and social services — everyone we can to try to bring kids into the fold.”

Using a World Cup theme to coincide with the World Cup in Brazil this year, the players will be wearing team colours in jerseys donated by the Braefoot Community Association. Divided into groups of U-8 to U-10 and U-12 to U-15, the emphasis will be on learning skills and having fun, rather than winning games.

“It’s not a competition, there are no set teams,” said head coach Joshua Hart, the nephew of former Canadian national team head coach Stephen Hart (currently coaching the national team of his native Trinidad and Tobago). “That’s what hinders young players is trying to win games. I want to take that out of the equation.

“I want them just to play.”

Hart said the Lakehill Association was initially overwhelmed with the response. Volunteer Lynn Marini has gone above and beyond to get the burgeoning registration organized. A couple of sessions have been added just for the kids on the waiting list and organizers hope the numbers can be increased next year.

The eight weeks of sessions — 10 for the younger ones and 16 for the older group — begin next week and run until late June.

“I just want the players to enjoy themselves, and continue to play the sport. No paying, no boundaries, just get them here,” Hart said.

“As somebody who loves the game, I want to see them playing all the time.”

sepp@timescolonist.com

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