The World Cup is over and done, but the United States’ love affair with soccer is likely just getting started.
If television ratings are any indication of “the beautiful game’s” increased popularity in America, soccer clearly has a place among the other “national pastimes.” In fact, this year’s World Cup contest between the United States and Portugal drew 24.7 million viewers across two networks – ESPN and Univision. And while U.S. World Cup viewership doesn’t hold a candle to the NFL playoffs or BCS Championship, Team America’s game viewership dwarfed the NBA Finals (15.5 million) and the World Series (14.9 million).
In other words, if soccer were on the U.S. stock market, one should consider buying.
But regardless of its growing esteem, several Georgia school systems fail to offer the sport at the middle school and prep levels. One is Commerce.
CHS is one of 30 (out of 85) Class A schools and the only Jackson County area system to not offer a program, but that could soon change.
Several parents have been pushing the school system to consider creating a soccer program at recent athletic booster club meetings.
One of those parents is Commerce Insurance owner Chris Hill. Hill has a daughter who primarily plays soccer with club teams and recreation departments. He believes that the sport could bring a multitude of benefits to local kids, ranging from fitness to eventual scholarship opportunities.
“It’s great exercise,” said Hill. “It’s a good, inexpensive sport. It’s great aerobic and anaerobic exercise with lots of jogging and bursts of speed.”
Hill and other pro-soccer parents recently arranged a survey at Commerce Middle School, which was taken by 334 students. And while Hill admitted there has been some discrepancy with the numbers, the totals point toward a student body that is highly interested in soccer. Approximately 45 percent of the students surveyed said they “would try out for soccer” if CMS fielded a team, while 16 percent said they would “consider it.” Thirty-seven percent of students said they were “uninterested in playing soccer.”
Commerce School System superintendent Joy Tolbert, whose daughter is active in club soccer, noted that the recent survey showed a much higher interest in soccer than a previous poll taken over five years ago.
Still Tolbert said that adding any athletic program can be a long process.
“We’ll have to look at the numbers, the interest and the cost to see what we could do,” she said. “Another issue is coaching. Would we have to hire someone, or would someone in-house put in the time?”
She also pointed out that soccer is one of three programs Commerce Middle School has considered adding in the past year – the other two programs being tennis and cross country.
Tolbert said CMS principal Bill Ruma would need to assess the interest, benefits and costs associated with each program before bringing a proposal to the board of education, which would make the ultimate decision on whether or not to add a new sport.
Commerce does have a precedent in dealing with the addition of new athletic programs. Only two years ago, the school system went through a similar process to add a swim team. But while the swim team was added at the high school level, Tolbert said the soccer program would only be added for the middle school – at least in its early stages.
Commerce Middle School athletic director Matthew Lund said that he supports the idea of starting a soccer program, but feels that there are other sports CMS needs to establish first. He noted that the middle school doesn't offer tennis or cross country, both of which are successful programs at CHS. Lund proposes establish those feeder programs before taking action on a soccer upstart.
“With that particular program, we would try to start it in the middle school level and let it grow into the high school,” said Tolbert.
That plan makes sense considering the considerably large interest in soccer among younger students in recreation programs.
Recreation program coordinator Scott White, who along with CPRD director Scott Rodgers, advocated for soccer programs at booster club meetings, pointed out the success of Commerce’s recreation soccer teams and the growing number of kids in them.
“We’ve been really successful,” said White. “We’ve had really good coaches and a lot of our kids have learned some really quality skills.”
White noted that Commerce teams have won multiple tournaments in Jefferson and Jackson County in the past two years.
“It’s really encouraging to see a Commerce soccer team having success against those (established) programs,” he added.
The CPRD has added at least one additional team each of the past two years, and while the growth rate isn’t explosive, it is steady.
Due to the blossoming numbers, this year, the recreation department offered spring and fall soccer programs.
While White is enthused about Commerce’s recreation soccer program, he believes the idea of a middle school team is still in its early stages, and it will ultimately be up to the parents in the community to decide if soccer will be a priority in Commerce.