by DAN MALEY
Imagine a mild spring day, sun edging the clouds, pushing away the last of winter. A vibrant green field, the smell of freshly cut grass. The sounds of children playing, drawing deep breaths as they chase a soccer ball. A combination of different moves, sometimes the sheer athleticism of a sprint, sometimes the physics-defying control of the ball with the feet. The scene is reminiscent of theatre, a mesmerizing grand production, the multitudes gathered longing to see the final act.
You could be forgiven for thinking that you were visiting a foreign country, in one of the varied cultures that are passionate about soccer. Perhaps England, Italy or Spain, where the game is played with a fierce enjoyment. Or maybe in Germany, watching a super-disciplined team. Or even in Brazil, where the sport is known as “the beautiful game”.
Yet you can find these scenes replicated here in our own region of southern Indiana, if you visit the sports complex on the north-west side of Washington on a Saturday morning, or walk past the many parks, urban spaces and backyards county-wide.
One reason for this is the influence of the Washington Soccer Federation (WSF), a spin-off from a grass roots YMCA program in 1979. Incorporated in 1982, the Federation aimed to keep their grass roots origin but improve their infrastructure. Seeking high levels of accountability and integrity, they elected their first president.
Originally encouraged by his wife to coach his daughter’s team, Monty Critchlow had fallen in love with the game. He was surprised to receive the invitation to take on the presidency, but those involved had already witnessed his passion for the game.
His service to the community has seen the development of Longfellow Park, lighting for the fields, and the involvement of the high school. He brought stability to the fledging federation, enabling many young people to access an array of new experiences. Those involved were able to participate in tournaments, join travel teams, and visit new places.
As Monty would tell you, there were naysayers. “…so many tried (soccer) because it was easy to grab a ball and kick around. It wasn’t as huge as the other sports, and many forecast that it wouldn’t last long. My response was that the USA may have three major sports, but the rest of the world has only one!”
Monty’s recognition of the sport is echoed in national statistics. More popular than ice hockey, more television viewers than baseball, and played in more states than both, soccer rivals American football for the number of participants. And for good reason. The US has a rich soccer history, coming third in the first World Cup in 1930. The modern team has qualified for every World Cup tournament since 1990, and the US were winners in the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
WSF has shown immense growth. There are approximately three-hundred and twenty new signups each spring, not including travel team members. There were close to one-hundred signups in the recently started adult league, and the new high school league is projected to receive a further one-hundred participants. Registration for all programs closes early in March —although latecomers will be catered for if possible— and has been made more accessible with the option to register online. Details can be found on the website, mywsf.org.
Monty’s response to a question about the length of his future service was a hint that they may have to carry him out of the game! Yet he doesn’t take all the credit for soccer’s popularity in Washington. He states, “WSF is not a success because of me. Many have sacrificed, in many ways and levels for the community.”
While this is no doubt true, I suspect his drive and passion for the beautiful game has been a prime factor in the success of WSF in Daviess County.