SEVERAL THOUSAND people converged on Glenwood for the opening day of the Western Howard County Soccer season Saturday.
On this warm, sunny day, more than 1,800 players flocked to the 10 fields at Glenwood Park and behind Bushy Park Elementary and Glenwood Middle schools.
One-hour games were scheduled on each field from 8: 30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
"Everything's going smoothly," said Hank Ferrero, president of Western Howard County Soccer Inc., as the third round of games was about to begin. "We only had one wrinkle -- four teams were on one field. It was a typo on the schedule. The next field was empty."
He said a little bit of extra excitement occurred when a hot-air balloon made an unplanned landing at 8 a.m. next to one of the fields.
West Friendship resident Ron Broderick, a certified balloon pilot, had taken two passengers for a sunrise flight and thought the field looked like a nice spot to land. He deflated the balloon, folded it up, and in 10 minutes his party was gone.
As president of Western Howard County Soccer Inc., Ferrero is responsible for making things go according to plan.
His children -- Matthew, 15, Amy, 13, and Corey, 11 -- play soccer, on recreational teams or on the group's travel teams.
Ferrero, of West Friendship, began volunteering as a coach with Western Howard County Soccer Inc. in 1991.
"I was a really lousy coach," he said.
The next year, he became a referee. He still referees.
Now Ferrero runs the organization with 24 board members who work year-round to manage the program.
They register players, recruit volunteers and coaches, train referees, form teams and schedule the fields and games.
"I will put in somewhere between 500 and 1,000 hours to make it happen," Ferrero said, "and the return is 2,000 smiles a week. This is the most positive contribution I can make to the community, running this organization."
Boys and girls, ages 5 to 18, from all over the western county area play on the 152 teams sponsored by Western Howard County Soccer.
Most are on the recreational teams that play on Saturdays; about 150 are on travel teams. Many of their parents are volunteers.
"Our coaches are all volunteers," Ferrero said. "Mostly player parents and mostly willing."
Kevin Curtiss of Glenelg is one of the "willing" player parents.
Curtiss said he never played soccer, but learned all he knows from being involved in the sport through the activities of his children.
He coaches a team in the Boys 10-11 division, in which his son, Wade, plays. He is so "willing" that he also serves as assistant coach for his 8-year-old daughter Tracy's team.
When "Russia," his son's team, squared off against "Canada," on Saturday morning, Curtiss patrolled the sidelines, keeping an eye on all the players and sometimes reminding them where they should be.
From time to time, he called out a name -- signaling that player to take a break -- and sent in the one available substitute player.
Assistant coach Steve Marques, father of Brian, yelled, "Get it outside! Charge the ball!"
Rick Hoyle, father of Matt, called out, "Atta way! Atta way! Nice job!"
Parents, siblings, relatives and friends yelled, "Go, red! Go, red!" (Red is Russia's color. Canada wears purple.)
Thanks to some solid defense from goalie Kristopher Gaasch and goals scored by Dustin Krause and Shawn Lewis, Russia was up 2-0 at the half.
Canada came back to score in the second half, but Russia held on to its lead, winning 2-1.
There were some tense moments in the game for parents as well as players and coaches.
"My legs are like rubber," said Lauren Gaasch, Kristopher's mother, who was on her feet throughout the game. "I was watching him, and I realized I was holding my breath."
When the final whistle blew, the teams returned to their sides, lined up and walked onto the field to congratulate each other on a great game.
After the game, Curtiss complimented his players and thanked them for a job well done.
"We're 1 and 0," he said.
On another field, coach Kate Kelley was serving as referee for her team, "Australia" -- a group of 5- and 6-year-olds playing microsoccer.
Microsoccer is played on a small field with three players on each side. The kids dribble, pass and kick goals, but scores are not kept.
Because so few players are on the field, the children are able to learn the game while playing. Coaches serve as referees.
Kelley, who is not a parent, comes from a soccer background. She played the game at the University of Massachusetts and played a season with the Maryland Pride professional women's soccer team. She said she just missed being a member of the Women's National Team in 1996.
Now Kelley plays on a women's team in Arlington, Va.
Last year, Glenelg resident Vanessa Manzitti, a co-worker of Kelley, mentioned that her son, Troy, 5, would be playing soccer. Kelley had volunteered with children's teams during college. She thought coaching Troy's team would be fun.
"I just love the game," she said.
Jack Milani, father of John, is Australia's assistant coach.
Troy, John and their teammates had a great time playing "Brazil."
All played enthusiastically and were worn out by the end of the game. Parents cheered and hugged their sons afterward.
In Western Howard County Soccer, Ferrero said, the emphasis is on having fun. And it's a family affair. Many families have two or more children playing each week, so they might end up spending the better part of a Saturday at the fields.
The league operates a refreshment stand at the fields known as the Snack Shed.
Dave Krause, father of Russia's Dustin, manages the business -- the organization's only fund-raiser.
A day of fun, family and food outside in beautiful weather -- it couldn't get any better than that.
Ferrero was a happy man, and so were the 1,950 kids on the fields.
"This is my family," he said. "I adopt all these kids for the season. I'll spend a week in withdrawal when it's all over."
Pub Date: 9/16/99