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Sports : League Is Way for Old Guys to Get Their Kicks : Soccer: Athletes age 30 and older find competition and social bonding in organization based in Claremont.

August 04, 1994|GARY KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Although the World Cup has come and gone from Pasadena, soccer remains alive and well in the San Gabriel Valley.

Nowhere is that more evident than Claremont, which serves as the base for the Claremont Adult Soccer Assn., an organization that includes more than 300 players and 20 teams that compete in three divisions according to ability level.

Every Sunday during most of the year, players age 30 and older gather for a daylong schedule of games played at Griffith, Vail and Lewis parks. Former professional, college and high school players and novices from all backgrounds and ethnic groups are among the players that make up teams from Claremont, Glendora, Duarte, Hacienda Heights, Walnut, Montclair, Upland, Ontario and Phillips Ranch.

"There's a division and team for every skill level," said Donn Risolo, 39, of Altadena. "There are teams in the first division that are experienced and highly skilled. But all divisions have teams that are ambitious and teams that are not ambitious. It's easy to find your niche."

The Claremont leagues are among several 30-and-older leagues in Southern California, all of which anticipate a slight surge in registration as a result of interest generated by the World Cup. In Claremont, for example, commissioner Maurice Byrne said three new teams will be competing during the 16-game fall season, which begins Sept. 11.

"We have one new team where the majority of the players are just guys who were turned on by the World Cup and have friends playing in the third division," Byrne said. "Most people who join the league stick with it. Some enjoy the soccer, some enjoy the social aspect. Most of us enjoy both."

Byrne, an Ontario resident who plays for the Snakes, three-time champion of the first division, said the Claremont association has been in existence in one form or another since the 1970s. Today, the organization sponsors leagues that run from September to December, January to May and June to August.

A relegation and promotion system allows teams to move up or down through divisions after each season depending on ability and ambition.

"There are some teams that have been in it since 1978 that have never won a championship, but they still come out," Byrne said. "One team in the third division, the Blue Devils, have lost 40 and won 0 over the last few years. But they have been responsible for getting people interested and for the birth of five other teams."

Risolo, the secretary of the league, said he began playing soccer 10 years ago because it looked challenging. He plays for a team called the Reds that competes in the third division.

"The game forces you to run, there's enough contact to satisfy any former high school football player and you're outdoors in the elements," said Risolo, who worked as a researcher for ESPN and ABC television during the World Cup.

"When you pick the game up as an adult, you want to do well, but you're satisfied with little victories. Handling the ball better than the last time you played, scoring the occasional goal, making a heads-up play--those are the things that keep you coming back."

And while the association has adopted rules and regulations that are common at almost every level, a few allowances are made because of the players' ages. For example, there is no limit on the amount or frequency of substitutions.

"The biggest difference between the game on the over-30 level and others is speed," Byrne said. "It's not that we're slow, but the point is, I'm 39. If you're playing against a guy who is 19, he's going to eventually run by you because he's young and naturally fit.

"As you get older, it can get pretty grueling out there," he said.

Byrne is hoping to attract 24 teams so that each division will have eight teams. Risolo anticipates that day is not far off.

"The sport really has something for everybody," he said. "If you've ever thought about giving it a try, but thought you were too old, you just have to come out and watch some of the games or practices. It's never too late to start."

Information about participating in the Claremont Adult Soccer Assn: (909) 596-4500 or (818) 791-3076.

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