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Little Neck-Douglaston Youth Club: Keeping it simple

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It’s not the biggest or most successful club in Queens, but the soccer program in the Little Neck-Douglaston Youth Club has found its niche: providing an organization for soccer players of all ages and skill levels.

While other clubs place the emphasis on travel teams and recruiting elite players, Little Neck-Douglaston’s focus is on its highly successful intramural program.

“It’s never been a factory turning out lots of teams, we don’t have anything on a very large scale and, as a result, I think we can pay closer attention to each individual kid,” said Ed Leahy, the club’s assistant commissioner. “One of the things we want to make sure we continue to do as we become more structured in terms of the soccer education we provide to these kids, we want to make sure we don’t lose that nurturing feeling that the club has always had.”

In many ways Leahy is a typical Little Neck-Douglaston volunteer, a parent with minimal knowledge of the sport who went from coaching his own son’s team to becoming soccer commissioner in 2000 before becoming assistant commissioner under George Silva in June.

“The backbone is always going to be the parent volunteers,” Leahy said. “Although what we’re seeing now that we didn’t see years ago is the parent volunteer who has played the game and who really understands the game.”

In an attempt to get even more knowledgeable coaches in the club, Leahy said the club started bringing in paid trainers, including members of David Price’s Storm Soccer Academy, to provide support to the coaches and players in the club’s burgeoning intramural program, which accounts for 450 of the club’s 650 members.

“The kids have become much more proficient and recent vintages of travel teams we’ve sent out in the Long Island Junior Soccer League have done very well,” Leahy said. “Our boys’ Under-12 team, the Rockets, won the Waldbaum’s Cup (and) our Under-11 team, the Warriors, lost in the finals. In fact, among all seven of our teams U-13 and under, only one of them didn’t have a winning record this year.”

Leahy is looking to take the initiative to the next step. While the club’s intramural program has given a chance for younger players to have fun and get to know the game in a noncompetitive environment, Leahy said he is starting a program that will begin to identify the player’s abilities at a young age.

“We’re going to make sure that by the time they’re of age to compete in travel soccer, they’ll be able to do so at whatever level they want to commit to. So if we have kids who are really into it and want to play top flight competition, we’ll be able to accommodate them,” he said. “If we have other kids who want to play for basic recreation purposes, we’ll be able to accommodate them, too.”

The education will not just be for the younger players. It will include enlightening parents of some of the club’s older players who are looking to play college soccer.

“Right now in youth soccer a lot of parental activities are being driven by expectation of college scholarships, but there are not that many scholarships out there and of most the kids who think they’re going to get college scholarships are not,” Leahy said.

“You have to temper those expectations, and what we’re going to do is let the parents know up front what the landscape is,” he said. “The whole idea is for your kid to enjoy what they’re doing, have a lot of fun and have a reason to stay involved with the activity, and we do that.”

One player who has found success on the college soccer field after a standout career in the Little Neck-Douglaston Youth Club is former Cardozo standout David Ferreira. A two-year star at Division III Manhattanville College, Ferreira has returned to help train several of club’s teams.

Ferreira is an example of what Leahy calls “recycling” within the club.

“He not only has a terrific knowledge of the game but a great approach with the kids,” he said. “This is the kind of thing that we want to do as a club, recycle these kids back so they’re not just involved as young players but they’re involved in their young adult and adult years.”

Led by Barry Weiner — the first soccer commissioner — Aldo Pollartz, Gary Sage, Lenny Patnoi, who is still the treasurer, and Izhak Sirota, the soccer program in the Little Neck-Douglaston Youth Club got off the ground in 1975.

“They were really the architects. They were the ones who really put the program together, and they negotiated with the city for permission to use our home fields, which are the fields behind Queens Children’s Hospital on the grounds of the Queens Farm Museum,” Leahy said.

The strength of the program has always been intramurals. In the spring, Leahy said, 100 players under the age of 5 joined the club, the largest ever in that age group. That growth has been the backbone of Leahy’s current initiative to turn those youths into competitive players in the future.

“What we’ve realized over the last four or five years is that that represents a terrific resource, and we haven’t always managed that resource as well as we could but now we are,” he said. “We always felt the strength of our travel program didn’t represent what it could have in terms of translating that intramural foundation into something competitive. Now we’re going to be able to do that.”

But for those players who aren’t quite good enough to participate in travel soccer in the ultra-competitive LIJSL, there is still a chance to play.

“When there are no longer enough kids in an age group to sustain an in-house intramural division, what we do is look for opportunities for them to play intramural level teams from other clubs,” Leahy said.

While it appears the club is moving in the right direction in terms of being more organized, it suffers the same concern of so many other soccer organizations in Queens: a lack of quality playing fields.

Because of major renovations at the Queens Children’s Hospital, the club will be without the use of those fields for at least a few years. In the case of the larger fields for the older travel teams, Leahy said there is a concern Little Neck-Douglaston may never reacquire those fields.

The club has enlisted the help of several politicians, including Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Bayside), whose own son is a star player on an Under-7 team in the club.

“We’re trying to work with some public officials to first get a decent renovation project going on our existing fields; primarily we need a water source, so we’re trying to get a well put in there,” Leahy said. “We’ve indicated we’ll take care of the actual maintenance. We have people who will do the reseeding and the stuff like that, but it would be nice if we can get a major project like a couple other clubs have done.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by email at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

Posted 7:24 pm, October 10, 2011
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