The late 1980s and 1990s saw a tremendous growth in youth soccer not only in Lower Merion, but throughout the state and the entire nation.
1988 was my seventh year in the club. Our fall intramural program had 382 players that year. By 1993, we had over 1000 intramural
players and by 1995 we had over 1500 players playing. In 2001, we had 1850 fall intramural players playing.
In 1990, we created the Spring Intramural Program. In 1993, the program had 276 participants. By 2000, there would be over 950 participants.
In 2001, LMSC decided that there was enough interest to form a four year old program so the highly popular Pee-Wees program made its debut.
We quickly realized that if the rules were modified and the practice sessions were geared towards the players having fun with a soccer ball,
that a program for four year olds would be a huge success.
Back in the early 1980s, the Delco League only offered travel team soccer for age groups Under 10, Under 12, Under 14, Under 16 and Under 19.
These were also the only age groups that offered state cup competition. Each age group was comprised of players with two different birth years.
In the late 1980s, our state association and their affiliated leagues would add Under 11, Under 13, Under 15 and Under 17 age groups due to
the large number of players participating. In 1989, the Under 9 age group would be added.
Larger clubs like LMSC grew big enough to form 'B' teams and even occasionally 'C' teams in some age groups, enabling more players to play
at the travel team level. LMSC would later become one of the very few clubs to form 'D' teams since we had so many players coming out to tryouts.
Three interesting stories about the growth of soccer in the 1990s quickly come to mind:
- The 1990 LMSC Gorillas: The first story came in 1990 when my Under 13 team, the LMSC Gorillas won the state championship. While we were
very happy to win the state cup (there were 46 teams in our age group in the state cup competition), we were disappointed that we could not
advance to Regionals where the state champions from Maine through West Virginia would square off against each other to determine a regional
champion. Regionals only took place at Under 12, 14, 16 and 19. The next year, 1991, Regional competition expanded to include the Under 13,
Under 15 and Under 17 age groups. It was frustrating, knowing that the change was enacted the year after we won the U-13 age group. We set
our sights on winning the U-14 age group in 1991, but lost in the semifinals to the eventual champion who advanced to the Regional event.
It would not be until 2003 that an LMSC team would go to Regionals. That year, my Under 12 LMSC Hammerheads would be crowned EPYSA State
Champions and Region One champions. The following year the LMSC Velez, coached by Miguel Nuila, would win the state cups and reach the
regional semifinals. It was clear that our travel teams were getting stronger and stronger. Today, most of the players on the Hammerheads
and Velez are playing at the college level. In fact, in the fall of 2011, 62 former LMSC players played at the college level.
- U-9 Boys Tryouts In 1997: Another interesting story about the growth of youth soccer took place in 1997 when we had tryouts for our Under 9
boys travel teams. We had over 100 players tryout and we wanted to minimize how many players we would have to cut from the Travel Team Program.
We decided we would form 7 teams, each comprised of 11-14 players and place them in appropriate divisions in Delco League. The top four teams
did well in their respective divisions that year. The fifth, sixth and seventh teams, known as the E, F1 and F2 teams, all played in the
league's bottom division. The E team won only two games that year, their two wins coming against our F1 and F2 teams. The F1 and F2
teams both went 0-9-1 since they tied each other when they played. The Delco League demanded that we limit the number of teams we would
enter in each age group in future years since our bottom teams were not able to compete with the other teams in the league's bottom division.
After that year, we limited ourselves to having a maximum of four travel teams in each age group, realizing that players not strong enough
to make the fourth team in an age group would be just as well off playing in the intramural program.
- Age Group Changes In 1991: Another memory I have of the growth of youth soccer took place back in 1991. Up until that time, travel team
age groups were based on what year the child was born in. My Gorillas team was also known as the 77 births since all players were born
in 1977. Unfortunately, the USA was the only country in the world that used year of birth for their age group classifications. The
rest of the world used an August 1st cutoff instead of a January 1st cutoff to determine age groups. This made things difficult for
our Olympic Developmental Program. Each state association formed teams comprised of the best players in their state to play against
the ODP teams from the other states. The four regions in the country each formed a regional team in each age group, comprised of the
top players from the state ODP teams in their region. Age group national teams were picked from the best players on each regional team.
The regional teams and the national teams often competed against other countries, but were at a disadvantage since all other nations used
an August 1st eligibility cutoff date and the USA used a January 1st cutoff date. It was decided that in 1991, the USA would switch to
an August 1st cutoff for registration so that our country would be in line with the rest of the world. This caused a huge amount of problems
as all established teams in the country would be ripped apart with some players now playing in an older age group and some playing in a
younger age group. Teams everywhere wanted to grandfather players to keep them with their current team, even if they would be considered
to be "underage" based on the new age group classifications. Some clubs allowed this while others did not. Huge fights and battles broke
out inside of many clubs throughout the country. LMSC took the approach of fully going with the new age group classifications in age
groups U-14 and younger and changing the makeup off all teams to conform to the new classifications. This caused many headaches and
shouting matches in our club as well. In fact, one parent even threatened a lawsuit to try and keep his son with his former teammates.
There was a lot of tension and emotion regarding the newly formed teams, but by 1992, most everything had settled down and the youth
soccer world got back to normal. In a huge bit of irony, about five years later, FIFA, the world soccer governing body, would change
their age group cutoff to January 1st. Once again, the USA was out of synch with the rest of the world. In the interest of preventing
heated battles similar to those in 1991, the United States Soccer Federation did not change back to the January 1st cutout and kept the
August 1st cutoff for age group classifications. They knew that the problems and controversy from 1991 did not need to be repeated.