PORTLAND, Maine — Prompted by last year’s rise in gas prices and the amount of travel that many clubs were doing in all of the age groups, SoccerMaine, the governing body of youth soccer in the state, made a decision to promote in-district play this year.
“One of the reasons was gas prices,” said Shari Levesque, executive director of SoccerMaine.
The decision was made by SoccerMaine’s competition committee, made up of the four district directors plus SoccerMaine’s vice president of the Competitive Youth Division.
“It was they who decided” on in-district play, said Levesque. “But part of my job is to uphold that.”
Some teams are OK with in-district play, others would prefer the previous system.
Nothing is set in stone, though.
“This is our first year doing this, so this is a trial season,” said Patsy Oversmith, North District director and former Bronco Travel president.
In both systems, teams are asked to rate themselves on their overall level of competitiveness. Ratings this year are made on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being most competitive.
“Before, each team was declaring if it was Division I or Division II,” said Levesque.
Potentially, teams could have played throughout the state, depending on the schedule.
From the North District this year, both the Bronco Travel and Bangor Under-14 girls teams rated themselves as 1’s. After each team has made its declaration, they are then matched up by a schedule program with teams of similar ratings as much as possible.
But that play will only be in-district, so the opportunity to play similarly rated teams becomes more of a challenge. Teams do not play outside their assigned districts now except for tournaments and the playoffs.
Scheduling was one reason the North teams were placed in the Metro District, because there are more opportunities to play closely matched games for teams of all levels.
“They asked for consideration and wanted to join with another district,” said Levesque of the North U14 teams, but a district had to accept them as well.
“The Metro District volunteered to take them,” said Levesque. “They’ve never had a problem with traveling [for good games].”
The Metro District, made up of teams from Falmouth south to Cape Elizabeth and west to Gorham, already had 10 U14 girls teams before adding the four North ones. The Central District, basically Cumberland to Lewiston and Topsham, consists of only seven, while the South District, from Scarborough to Kittery, has eight.
There is a similar issue in the U13 boys where the North has seven teams and will play completely in-district, but the Central, Metro and South districts have combined into one 13-team group.
On the other hand, in the U10 boys and U12 girls divisions, one or more districts has had to split into two divisions because they had so many teams.
“We always tried cross-district play for the older [ages 12 and up] groups,” said Levesque. “The jury is still out if [in-district play] is going to work.”
There will be an evaluation after the season, she said, and a decision will be made to go back to the old setup or stay with in-district play.
“We can look to go back or stay with this,” said Oversmith.
Based on the response from some of the parents, they might even have to consider a hybrid setup.
“I think, especially with the younger kids [U9-U11], parents are happy they don’t have to travel that far,” said Sonja Parker, president of Bronco Travel. “I don’t think those parents who are looking for good competition mind [going to Portland].
“It does prepare them for the spring [plus regional camps and the Olympic Development Program].”
And, in the long run, it’s about the players more than the rise and fall of gas prices, according to Oversmith.
“We want to make sure we’re developing players,” she said. “We want to make sure they get that quality game in.”