IF YOU have a travel soccer player under your roof or nearby, this may be a big, busy weekend for the household. It's Snickers Maryland State Cup time, a spring ritual that means competition distinct from league play. For some age groups, it's a rite that by midsummer can yield a national title, because the competition is going on across the country.
Three county clubs - the Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County, the Columbia Soccer Club, and the western county's Thunder Soccer Club - have teams entered. All played yesterday and have games scheduled today; some boys teams will play three games this weekend.
A few boys teams began this year's tournament, run by the Maryland State Youth Soccer Association, with play-in competition April 7. Of 11 county teams competing that day, four were knocked out, one of them a Columbia squad beaten by another Columbia club. Countians eliminated entrants from Damascus, Frederick, Essex, Olney and Gaithersburg; they lost twice to Bethesda teams and once to a Fallston squad.
As in all of youth soccer, competition is by age group, the yearly increments starting with under-12 teams and going through under-19s. This is tournament play - win and advance; lose and go home - that SAC/HC teams have had a lot of success in over the years, including five national boys titles, including back-to-back in 1996-97.
Then the competitive pendulum in Maryland swung from Montgomery and Howard counties toward Baltimore-based teams.
Recruiting in Columbia, especially, by several clubs in Baltimore and Bethesda drained off a few top-notch local players. But several leaders inside SAC/HC, especially, counter that such recruitment means more opportunities for other local players.
And, they say, it's only a matter of time before some State Cups start showing up locally again. The club has been working especially to rebuild its program for older girls.
On this weekend's schedule for Howard County boys teams are opponents from the Soccer Club of Baltimore; the Baltimore Football Club; Crofton and Severna Park in Anne Arundel County; Fort Washington in Prince George's County; Bethesda, Potomac and Olney in Montgomery County; Hagerstown; and Salisbury.
County girls will face opponents from Parkville and White Marsh in Baltimore County and Davidsonville in Anne Arundel County, in addition to the same Montgomery County clubs.
This weekend's games are at the Potomac Polo Grounds in Poolesville or the new Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown - a 24-field complex that opened last fall with participation by Montgomery County's government, Montgomery Soccer Inc. and Discovery baron John Hendricks of Bethesda. Hendricks is also a founder of the Women's United Soccer Association and part-owner of two WUSA franchises.
Winners this weekend advance to state semifinals June 2; finals are June 3. Winners make U.S. Youth Soccer's Region I tournament in Niagara Falls, N.Y., June 29-July 3. Winners there among under-14 and older teams go to nationals July 22-27 in Indianapolis.
Clarkville's Tyler Hairston, the 15-year-old River Hill High golfer we wrote about last fall for having had so much competitive success within two years of taking up the game, won three more junior tournaments, was runner-up twice (once after a playoff) and had a couple of thirds over the winter.
In fact, Hairston seems likely to become the International Junior Golf Tour's 13-15 Player of the Year, although that won't be a sure thing for another couple of weeks. But the honor goes to the season's top point producer, who at the moment is Hairston. And, says Deborah Coonts, Tyler's mother, his top four competitors are, as he is, skipping the season's last three events.
If he wins, the honor will be presented over Memorial Day weekend at a tournament at the Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando, Fla.
Something to think about, excerpted from a piece called "Are we having fun yet?" on the Web site www.worldcoach.net by Dr. Ron LeFebvre. He's an adolescent-growth specialist in Irvine, Calif., who for 44 years also has coached baseball and softball.
"We send our children to school to get the best education possible," he writes. "We do not put a fifth-grader in high school, but when it comes to sports, some parents believe they can teach better than the teachers by placing their child in a situation of overuse. They will destroy their own child for the sake of their own egos. ... Let the child grow; let [him or her] play at a level where it is fun. ... "
Parents have to be brought back to reality, back to the fun part of the game, and realize the children of today have more physical and mental injuries than anytime in the history of sport."