After two years of pandemic disruption, Tillsonburg Football Club’s soccer teams, youth and adult, are excited for a full season on the pitch.
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“The work on the part of all the volunteers just to hold things together, and rebuild stronger, has been great,” said Tillsonburg FC president Mark Locker. “There’s been so much behind the scenes effort put into just making this a great place to play, and lots of determination. People love the sport.”
Head coach John Twinem concurred.
“First we couldn’t train at all,” said Twinem. “Then we had to train with social distancing in force. Then we had to adapt to various facilities’ application of health regulations. But everyone’s pitched in to make things possible. Our coaches and players are really glad to be playing again.”
In the hiatus, the club has been refocusing, adapting a more strategic approach and developing a plan that will move its operations to a more professional level. Its goal is to become a leading club in the region with indoor and outdoor facilities for all age groups, and with this, to be able to enter its own teams in the Ontario Player Development League, Canada Soccer’s highest level of youth play. With Canada Soccer having made great strides at the world level (the women won Olympic gold and the men just qualified for the World Cup), Tillsonburg FC wants to provide high level and affordable opportunities for area youth.
At present, Tillsonburg FC will be fielding 10 teams in total. Along with a new adult women’s team, slated to play in the London Area Women’s Soccer League, there are two Masters teams (over 35), two men’s teams (Premier division and Second division in the Western Ontario Soccer League) and five youth teams.
“Like other sports, we’re just really coming back out of hibernation, with the youth teams,” said Twinem. “The U14/15 girls’ program has really come together through the determination of their head coach, Elemer Sopronyi, over the last two years, and even though game play has been limited, they’re growing a lot as players.”
Additionally, there is a U9 team (head coach, Sandro Palermo) that is at the beginning of entering the competitive stream, a U10/11 team (head coach, Austin Gazley) that had a good (but short) first season in 2021, a new U12 girls’ team (head coach, Carrie Kowalski), and a U14 boys’ team (head coach, Mike Thompson) that won its division in a short season, and has been promoted to Tier 1 of the Elgin Middlesex District Soccer League.
“It’s great to see the players out growing and developing again,” said Locker. “And we think we’re headed in a really good direction for growth. We have more of our coaches coming from high performance, elite levels of play, so the kids are being taught by players who have been well taught themselves.”
While teams are largely formed and registered already, Twinem noted there will be a tryout opportunity for all age groups on Saturday, May 7, 1:30 p.m. at Tillsonburg Soccer Park.
“We know that both the COVID disruption and a late spring have meant that many parents had not even realized it was time to sign up for summer sports. Playing at the higher level that competitive (soccer) requires means you’re always teaching players and helping them become more skillful, more athletic. For us to compete against good teams, we have to do more than just hand the kids a jersey and say ‘Go out and kick the ball.’”
Twinem said they are always looking for young players who want to come out and start learning to play.
“Our youth teams will all be out with their coaches, holding practices on different fields, and new players will be able to jump in and see what it’s like.”
“That’s what it’s about,” said Locker. “Getting them out to learn ‘the beautiful game.’ Tillsonburg FC is committed to teaching it. Our affiliation with Vancouver Whitecaps has allowed a number of young players to advance to the Whitecaps’ OPDL teams, the highest level of youth soccer in the province. Others have gone on to play university and college soccer. Our men’s and women’s teams get the benefit of their playing abilities. Now our youth teams are getting the benefit of their coaching abilities. We want to give Tillsonburg kids the chance to become excellent soccer players.”