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Little Legs Rule at AYSO Season Openers

Sports: Parents praise the fall ritual for uniting families--and tiring the most energetic youths.


Soccer may never become America's national pastime, but don't tell the kids. Across Orange County on Saturday, hundreds of children took to green fields in baggy pants and mesh shirts, knee-high socks and cleats to renew what is for many of their generation a rite of passage.

Saturday was opening day for the American Youth Soccer Organization's season, a ritual of late summer that has become as recognizable as emptying beaches and the sun's slanting light.

"This is the fall ritual," Mike Jones said.

Jones coached sons Bryan, 8, and Casey, 11 at a park in Irvine on Saturday. It was an all-day commitment, but it hardly began there.

For Jones, practice consumes three hours each Monday and Wednesday evening. There's time spent doing paperwork, taking phone calls and doing lineups. There's the hundreds of dollars he has invested in portable goals, balls and other practice equipment.

"When my boys got to the age that they could play soccer, they wanted to be with their friends," he said. "I wanted to be a good dad."

Like many fathers of his generation, Jones, 45, didn't know an attacking midfielder from a back header when his kids took up this soccer business. So he learned, enrolling in coaching clinics and buying a dozen training videos.

Doug and Lisa Mitchell prepared for opening day another way: lugging lawn chairs, a blanket and a cooler full of sodas to watch daughter, Lindsey, 9, play.

"It's something ... we can do as a family every Saturday," Doug Mitchell said.

"[Lindsey's] been playing at school during the day, and at home she's been taking the ball into the street and hitting it up against the garage door," Lisa Mitchell said. "I didn't know anything about soccer when she started. I'm still learning. I just love to see her running around, being competitive. I love to see when she does well, because it's great for her self-esteem."

In Huntington Beach, several hundred parents and their children converged at Harbour View Park for the season opener.

"You need to block 'em!" one parent screamed.

"Way to go, Haley! Pass it! Pass it! Kick it hard!" chimed in another.

Becky Jones, 34, of Westminster said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will forever be a part of her family's soccer season ritual.

"It happened near the beginning of the soccer season," said Jones, whose husband is a firefighter. They have four children in AYSO soccer. "It's always going to be sad when we start the season, but it has brought us all closer."

Back in Irvine, Eric Dalh thought a bit about what makes soccer so popular among children. Behind him, 7-year-old son Evan, his game long over, ran up and down a hill kicking a ball.

"They just enjoy running as much as anything, I guess," Dalh said. "He won't slow down until 10 o'clock tonight."

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