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Cover Story : Fervor on the Field : Despite the rigors, club sports keep drawing Valley youths and parents by fostering talent and camaraderie.


Don Harris wouldn't miss a tournament in which Stealth participated if his life depended on it--which it darned near has.

Earthquake repairs can wait while the Rousselet family is on the road watching Stealth and Shockwave.

And Fred Herrera, literally and figuratively, is driven to near-exhaustion coaching the North Hollywood Jets.

What pushes these levelheaded people to the point of craziness? Not their jobs. The answer is club sports.


These games are a step up from Little League. In clubs, community athletic organizations in which boys and girls 8 to 18 compete year-round in softball, soccer and other sports, competition is keener and so is attention paid to the honing of skills. Parents pay as much as $500 annually for their children to play, many with the hope of landing a college athletic scholarship.

There are 31 club softball teams and nine club soccer teams in the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys. Most clubs have one team, but some have as many as four. As the names of some teams--Spartans, L.A. Force, Wild Things--suggest, no one plays the clubs to fool around.

That includes adults.

"Typically, there are tournaments darned near every weekend, year-round," said Steve Valentine, president of West Valley Soccer Club, of which Shockwave, a girls' age 14-and-younger team, is a member. "Kids who really want to play at the club level need to be talented and interested. But they also need to have strong parental support."

While players compete with high intensity, many parents, coaches and club organizers find themselves demonstrating a similar level of devotion.

Rene and Leslie Rousselet of Woodland Hills no longer take their family camping, and they've sold their boat they used to take water skiing. But this family that no longer plays together still stays together--through club sports.

Lauren Rousselet, 13, the eldest of four children, plays goalkeeper for Shockwave and catcher for Woodland Hills-based Stealth's 14-and-younger softball team. Lauren's brothers, Michael, 10, and Stephen, 8, and her 5-year-old sister Brooke do not participate in club sports. But it's a good bet they will someday.

Virtually every weekend, the Rousselets happily pack up their van and travel en masse to watch Lauren play, often staying overnight in a motel. The kids view the trips as mini vacations. Their parents spend time between games bonding with other parents.

"You make a lot of friends," Leslie Rousselet said. "There are some really nice families, really nice kids. We want to go out to dinner with them whether we're out of town together or not."

Still, the going can be a grind.

During one stretch this summer, the Rousselets' itinerary included softball tournaments in Ventura, Rancho Cucamonga and Escondido, then a soccer tournament in Orange County on four consecutive weekends. Ten days later, the family was scheduled to travel to Hawaii for another softball tournament.

Small wonder that the middle finger on Lauren's right hand has been swollen for weeks. But then, so is her mother's monthly planner.

"I have a spiral calendar and we go over it and over it," Leslie Rousselet said. "Last year, we went crazy with all the stuff we let (Lauren) and all our other kids do. I've learned that it can be insanity. Friends tell me we're crazy. I get that a lot."

The Rousselets pay $300 for Lauren's membership in Shockwave and $325 for membership in Stealth. That's money that could go toward home improvements. Since the Northridge earthquake in January, household chores have piled up considerably.

"It gets expensive and there are, probably, other things we could be doing with our money," Rene Rousselet said. "It does cause some conflicts between Leslie and me. But we both agree this is something we want to do. And it's a short period of time, really, in (Lauren's) life. You can't get this time back."

Allegiances to club sports can approach near-fatal attractions. Don Harris, Stealth president and coach of the club's 12-and-younger team, almost died on a recent weekend trip to Riverside by ignoring nausea and vomiting that began the night before a game and lasted well past the first pitch.

But Harris, a coach for the past 17 years, wasn't about to miss a tournament over a bout with the bug.

"I was thinking of not going because I was ill," Harris said. "But I felt an obligation to the kids."

After the game, Harris headed for a hospital emergency room. Six hours later, he underwent emergency surgery for a perforated colon. Doctors told him he had risked dying by not seeking treatment sooner.

Harris said that two weeks later he was coaching again. He's scheduled for follow-up surgery near the end of summer--after Stealth returns from Hawaii on Aug. 24.


"Club sports can really grab you," said Sergio Rosenberg, president of L.A. Force Youth Soccer Club in Northridge, which has three boys' and two girls' teams. "Pretty soon, you're wondering what your real job is: your everyday job, or your soccer team."

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