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The Goal: Fun : Nobody's Keeping Score in League for 5-Year-Old Girls


MISSION VIEJO — There is no blood left on the soccer field when the Bunnies meet the Lambs.

And there are no winners or losers when the Ducklings take on the Fawns. When their game is over, the Kittens and the Puppies don't even know the score, but they exchange hugs anyway.

Welcome to the American Youth Soccer Organization's league for 5-year-old girls--a league whose games are played on what AYSO organizers, with apologies to Disneyland, call the "Happiest Field in Mission Viejo."

"Our goal is for the kids to have fun," said Paul Beltis, program director for the local league. "We don't keep score and we don't have standings. The kids have the rest of their lives to be competitive."

For the 102 girls in Division 7, the AYSO league is their first experience with organized youth sports. At this age, say AYSO coaches, the game is rather basic. Run down the field. Kick the ball. Aim for the goal.

"The joy for them is kicking the ball and scoring," said Allan Gallup, commissioner of the Mission Viejo AYSO district, which he says is the second largest in the nation with more than 3,000 children. "So we don't use goalies."

The girls tend to bunch around the ball like bees around a hive and buzz up and down the field, giggling and laughing. League officials like to tell stories about untangling the occasional overenthusiastic youngster from the nets when their momentum carries them into the goal.

Earlier this year, said Gallup, all 22 girls from both teams chased a ball beyond the end line and just kept going, ignoring the excited whistles of the referee as they ran, en masse, past startled players on the next soccer field, then scooted down a hill after the ball, stopping only when it jammed against a fence.

"The game is so entertaining that parents on the next fields stop watching their kids and turn around to watch the girls," Beltis said.

But gradually, they learn the basics of soccer, and in the learning also pick up some valuable social skills, their parents say.

"Initially they are very shy," said Lorie Kilgore, as her daughter, Ashley, sat quietly by her side after a game last week at Youth Athletic Park in Mission Viejo. "Their attention span is very short, and they tend not to be very aggressive."

"But then you see them grow and gain confidence in themselves," said Kilgore, who coaches the Ponies. "They learn so quickly."

Every girl gets a uniform, and at the end of the year, everyone gets a trophy, said Peltis, whose daughter Jennifer, the last of his six children--all girls--is in the league.

"They love it," he said. "It's their very own trophy, and they take it to preschool or kindergarten during show and tell and share it with the other kids, they're so proud of that trophy."

And by the end of the season, the improvement in play from the early games is dramatic, he said. The girls eventually learn the meaning of end lines and how to guide the ball instead of kicking it aimlessly.

Mission Viejo is one of only three AYSO districts in the county that separate the girls from the boys, Gallup said.

"Even at this age, the boys seem to be more aggressive," he said, which tends to send some of the girls into a shell. "As a rule the kids do better when they are separate and many (AYSO) districts in the Southern California area are trying to do that.

"The problem is, they don't have the numbers," Gallup said, "which is a shame because once they get started, the league really takes off."

Called the "baby animal league" because the teams are named after infants in the animal world, the 5-year-olds were divided three years ago into six teams.

Currently, there are 12 teams, and organizers say they are running out of baby animal names.

"We finally settled on the Foals and the Fledglings for new names this year," Beltis said. "We were going to use Chicks, but we thought some of the parents might not be too happy about that."

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