It all started with a trip to Chicago six years ago.
Before 2006, the University City-area based Region 605 of the American Youth Soccer Association, a recreational-level organization, had never put much emphasis on out-of-town tournament play.
But the participants in the Chicago tournament had so much fun that AYSO 605 leaders changed their way of thinking. They quickly put a system in place that would allow elite players to enjoy tournament-style soccer on a regular basis, while the league stays true to its recreational roots.
Now in its fifth year, the AYSO All-Stars program takes pride in providing tournament opportunities, as many club-level organizations do, without requiring its players to make the same financial and time commitments emphasized by their club soccer counterparts.
“Clubs can be quite expensive,” said Kathy Riley, AYSO 605 president. “We like to say we give more bang for the buck.”
Each of AYSO 605’s recreational players pays the same $100 fee. Players selected for the All-Star teams must pay an additional $25 fee and pay for their own travel to tournaments. Most of the tournaments the All-Star teams play in are local to Charlotte, minimizing expense.
AYSO 605 has more than a dozen All-Star teams, ranging in age divisions from under-9 to under-19. Teams play in tournaments in the spring, summer and fall.
“What’s nice is that the teams are doing well recently,” said Riley. “Now we have families that contact us and say we’re paying a fortune, we have to cut back. It’s one of the things they look to us for.”
Mark and Molly McLauchlin’s children had been playing in a local church soccer league, but he thought his 11-year-old son, Bennett, especially would benefit from better competition. McLauchlin, a Highland Creek resident, met ASYO 605 All-Star program administrator Steve Merkel, whose two sons are the same ages as McLaughlin’s.
The McLauchlins, including Bennett and 9-year-old twins Molly and Will, began play with AYSO last spring. They continued recreational play in the fall season, which made them eligible to try out for the All-Star teams. All three made their respective All-Star teams.
“I was excited to try out for the All-Star team,” said Molly. “I wasn’t really nervous, because I used to play (for another league). Some of my friends had been playing here (with AYSO), and they were telling me how cool it was ’n’ stuff.”
ASYO leaders figure their All-Star teams are on the same level as either Challenge- or Classic-level soccer teams, classifications used mostly in the realm of club soccer.
Last fall, Bennett’s under-12 team won a tournament at Lake Norman that included more than 100 teams spread over the various age groups.
“The advantage is we’re not traveling all over the state spending hundreds and thousands of dollars to play in each and every tournament,” said Merkel. “We’re still getting the full experience of club soccer.”
Bennett McLauchlin, who volunteers as a game official in recreational games among younger age groups, hopes he can use All-Star play as a springboard to playing in middle school, high school and college.
Some teams are traveling to Virginia Tech for a tournament next month. The McLauchlins (all of whom play goalkeeper) will make the trip, but Mark McLauchlin, who’s an assistant coach for Will’s team, said players aren’t pressured to participate in every tournament. He said AYSO is open to players’ being flexible with their schedules.
AYSO 605 All-Star teams are also eligible to play in AYSO national tournaments, like the one on that 2006 trip to Chicago. The national organization awards berths on a lottery basis. Two 605 teams are scheduled to play in this summer’s tournament in Nashville, Tenn.