County youth soccer league kicks off Saturday with jamboree at Evarts

Published 2:31 pm Friday, March 15, 2024

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By John Henson

Contributing Sports Writer

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Despite being the world’s most popular sport for many years, soccer has yet to catch the attention of most Harlan Countians.

Harlan County High School girls soccer coach Hannah Pittman is determined to change that, beginning with the opening of the Harlan County Youth Soccer League.

A season-opening jamboree was held Saturday at the Evarts Elementary School field with players from fourth through the eighth grade participating. Pittman credited the Harlan County School Board for making her dream a reality.

“I’m extremely thankful that the school board rallied behind my vision, allowing us to open up the league for K4-8th graders this year. I knew from the moment I took over as the high school’s head coach that I wanted to do everything in my power to create more opportunities for our county’s youth to play soccer, and they’ve allowed me to do just that,” she said.

Recognizing the challenges faced by high school teams due to a lack of experience, Pittman emphasized the importance of teaching the basics at an early age. She said starting at the grassroots level will provide student-athletes with a solid foundation, ultimately benefiting the high school teams’ performance at the regional level.

Pittman said this season brings about a groundbreaking change – a proper full-length season.

“You can’t teach kids very much in a month-long season, and you certainly can’t get parents to buy into a sports program that is asking them to fork out $100 on equipment just for the season to wrap as quickly as it began,” she said.

This year, every team is guaranteed to play at least 12 games, including pre and post-season contests, over a span of three months. The extended schedule, combined with other improvements, has led to a 40 percent increase in fourth- to eighth-grade participants, said Pittman.

“Having that kind of growth occur in a single year is unheard of, and I’m extremely proud to have been a part of making it happen,” she said.

Pittman said the collaboration between the school board, local businesses, and soccer fans has set the stage for a transformative era in the development of young soccer talent in the community.

“The increased opportunities and support promise not only a thrilling season but also a brighter future for the county’s soccer programs,” Pittman said.

The community has played a pivotal role in turning this vision into reality, with local businesses stepping up to support the youth soccer league.

“Small business owners such as Alex Haywood, Dalton Overbay, and Callie Wilson generously donated funds to cover league expenses, ensuring that athletes have access to necessary equipment and uniforms,” Pittman said. “If we didn’t have our sponsors, there’s simply no way we could’ve provided the necessary equipment and uniforms for our 90-plus K4 to third-grade athletes.”

Scrimmages Saturday at Evarts begin with James A. Cawood taking on Evarts at 9:30, followed by Wallins vs Rosspoint at 11:15 and Black Mountain taking on Cumberland at 12:45. There will be fourth- and fifth-grade games followed by games for sixth-through-eighth-grade teams. Pittman said games for players from K4 through the third grade will start later.